Ran Blake: From Music to Film and Back
AAJ: You’ve done so many solo records—why so many?
RB: Well Jeanne Lee is not around on this earth, Ricky Ford is in Paris, and some people don't want to rehearse and I have all this time. I feel one of my best solos is Unmarked Van. [ Unmarked Van: A Tribute to Sarah Vaughn Soul Note)—particularly the title track. I have been in an isolated bubble. I can’t inflict my plots on everyone. I like duo settings too.
AAJ: Yeah you’ve done a lot of great duo records, Anthony Braxton, Houston Person, Ricky Ford, Jeanne Lee, Christine Correa... do you find duo allows you to explore the music more?
RB: Yes, and I care about James Meranda and the Knife[ Dave Fabris]... I have a duo record coming out with the Knife [ Untitled coming out on Soul Note]
AAJ: That’s right you have a record coming out soon with Boston based guitarist Dave Fabris (a.k.a the Knife)
RB: I' m also going to do something in late April at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) with Mark Harvey. When you involve a larger group people are busy and it’s not like growing up with Jeanne Lee and sitting and taking time. There is a sense of hurriedness that I find now that, I’m sure it was there Matana, in the ‘60’s but I just don’t remember it being quite so rushed.
AAJ: You have a very interesting symbol that you use a lot on your recordings and in your writing. What’s the story behind the black bag insignia?
RB: The black bag I had [it] made for me in Riverdale by a wonderful shoe man, and people thought I had a mixed bag in me. It was just great studying you know with Gunther [Schuller], running uptown not that I had to many lessons with Mary Lou Williams who lived at 63 Hamilton Terrace in Sugar Hill Harlem and then I would go down to hear Greek music and I just collected all of this stuff, perhaps I should have another black bag, maybe I should? It died in Dorthy Wallace’s attic 20 years ago with holes in and it was just like Jean Lee’s sunglasses and shawl... That was my idea for the cover for New Sounds Around and except for the album with Paul Bley it’s been with me. She never kept her trademark particularly. It’s too long a story people would pick me up at different airports—and they liked me well enough that the black bag meant a lot to them. It's like [how] Alfred Hitchcock appears for 30 seconds in his films it's not the most essential thing in my life, but now it’s on my watch and its on my stationary and now I got a letter from the post office addressed to the black bag and somebody at the post office knew it was me so it got delivered. Well Prince has a design, and so do I.
AAJ: Looking back in retrospect what do you feel are some of the major corner stones of your artistic development?
RB: I think noir, being in gospel music, the really encompassing great years 6 or 7 years or how manybut with Gunther wish I kept a log. I think now I’ll applaud my ability to get to know other styles like [soul/gospel vocalist] Al Green, as much as I love [Charlie] Parker, he’s not in me like the singers Al Green, Billie Holiday, and Ray [Charles] and Stevie [Wonder] and Chris [Connor] and Abbey Lincoln, and I guess the noir and the plots whereas if I just read a paperback? So, well I think also being an educator—how to deal with students---should I try it [teaching concepts] out on myself first etc.? But I don’t think I have all the answers I’m still trying to grow and learn more
AAJ: Where did your teaching style come from?
RB: Probably Gunther [Schuller] but I think maybe I had dyslexia as a kid and so I doted on an aural approach [to teaching.] But now I’d rather have people –if you had to learn [ my composition] Horace is Blue to play tonight I’d really rather you get 3 or 4 notes of notation down but then go back to my[aural] source of Horace. I used to be so doctrinaire that I used to tell people to almost burn [notated] music!—Gunther [Schuller] kidded me about that a year or two ago; but I think I think it’s just the way I learned and I think that I spent so much time hearing classical music—dissonant 20th century, but like a jazz musician would—in other words instead of hearing solos I heard orchestras—I loved black music—gospel, the vocalists. I heard some of the more virtuoso horn music where as I respected it ---a lot of women and guys heard that growing up--- but hearing Stravinsky and Ives and trying to improvise on itit didn’t sound like jazz but I used the ear and then I would blow on it some more. It sounded like to many people that I didn’t know what I was doing and sometimes I didn’t. And I guess I studied with myself a lot not all consciously, and I realized that isn’t it great to do things of Cecil Taylor and Earl Hines but I won’t--- my right hand doesn’t want to play faster than the singers. So I don’t knowso many things now I think I am meandering but, oh, and of course being in Greece was a shock and Argentian—the racial injustice being done..