Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians
Blake, Michael (Stephen)
Blake, Michael (Stephen), tenor and soprano saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet, flute, piano; b. Montreal, Canada, 19 May 1964. His parents are Merle and Patrick Blake. His mother was a professional dancer on hire for TV and theater productions. His father worked many different jobs including PR for the San Francisco Opera Company. Quite a music fan, he had an extensive record collection with loads of jazz and classical music. He also met a number of legends including Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong.
Michael graduated from Vancouver Technical High School and received the Music Award for talent in that field. Blake received his formal music education in Vancouver, BC at Vancouver Community College where he studied saxophone with David Branter. He soon made a positive impression on his mentor Hugh Fraser who got him involved in his VEJI (Vancouver Ensemble of Jazz Improvisation) band. Michael studied privately with many of the vibrant young jazz artists working on the West Coast scene including Campbell Ryga, Phil Dwyer and Pat Caird.
In 1984 and 1985 he was accepted on scholarship to the Banff School of Fine Arts Summer Jazz Workshop. This opportunity introduced him to a first rate jazz faculty of professionals and many talented young musicians from Canada, the US and Europe. The next year Blake was awarded a Canada Council Grant, which took him to New York City where he studied saxophone privately with acclaimed jazz artist and clinician David Liebman. In 2002 he was recognized in Downbeat Magazine's 50th Annual Critics Poll TDWR (Talent Deserving Wider Recognition) categories for tenor sax, soprano sax and jazz artist of the year. He was also cited as a "new jazz star" in the July issue of US World News Report.
Blake has made a busy life for himself in New York City. He is a Composer in Residence in the Jazz Composers Collective, a non-profit, musician run organization dedicated to presenting the original works of composers. In 2003 the Collective celebrated its' eleventh-year anniversary with a week festival at NYC's The Jazz Standard. The Collective partners have been featured in Downbeat, Jazziz, Jazztimes, The New York Times Sunday Arts Section and the Boston Globe. Blake is a veteran member of JCC founder Ben Allison's group Medicine Wheel and performs on his most recent album Peace Pipe. Michael contributes to other Collective activities including the Herbie Nichols Project. A repertoire ensemble devoted to the compositions of the under rated pianist Herbie Nichols. The group was chosen as "Best Acoustic Group" and "Best Acoustic Group - TDWR" in Down Beat.
Michael's tenure with John Lurie and the Lounge Lizards spans over a decade and includes numerous record dates, TV appearances, a live concert film from Berlin and film soundtracks. Blake is also co-leader of Slow Poke, a band including world-renowned slide guitarist David Tronzo, bassist/guitarist Tony Scherr and drummer Kenny Wollesen.
Blake kicked off the millennium composing. He wrote the theme music for the Sundance Channel's Conversations in World Cinema then followed that up by scoring the Network ID and Up Next menus. His ensemble Free Association was awarded the prestigious Doris Duke Jazz Ensemble's Project Grant from Chamber Music America. The resulting suite, entitled Mr. Carefree is an ambitious effort to fuse the 1970's songwriting artistry of Curtis Mayfield and Roberta Flack with the kaleidoscope like arrangements of Sly Stone, Quincy Jones and Fela Kuti.
In 2003 Blake continues to actively record, compose and perform. He toured Italy and Denmark with a new group called Blake Tartare which features Blake with a rhythm section comprised of three Danes. Michael recently completed a tour of Denmark with rising star drummer Kresten Osgood and legendary jazz organist Dr. Lonnie Smith. Michael recently premiered two new arrangements commissioned by Canadian composer John Korsrud for his ensemble The Hard Rubber Orchestra. His NY big band, The Eulipion Orchestra showcase Blake's ability to orchestrate complex and original new works in keeping with his unique lyrical style.
Among the many artists Michael has recorded and performed with are Medeski, Martin and Wood, Gil Evans' Orchestra, Lee Konitz, Ben E. King, Tricky, Prince Paul, DJ Logic, Steven Bernstein, Chris Brown/Kate Fenner Band, The Groove Collective, Jack McDuff and Pinetop Perkins.
Kingdom of Champa (1997); Slow Poke: Slow Poke at Home (1998), Redemption (1999); Drift (2001); Elevated (2002)
John Lurie and the Lounge Lizards: The Lounge Lizards Live in Berlin, Vol.I (1991), The Lounge Lizards Live in Berlin, Vol.II (1993), Soundtrack "Get Shorty" (1996), Soundtrack "Excess Baggage" (1998), Qqueen of all Ears (1998), Fishing with John (1999), African Swim (1999); The Jazz Composers Collective: Ben Allison and Medicine Wheel: Medicine Wheel (1998), Third Eye (1999); The Herbie Nichols Project: Dr. Cyclops Dream (2000), Strange City (2001); Ben Allison and Medicine Wheel: Riding the Nuclear Tiger (2001), Peace Pipe (2002)