July, 2006

Ran Blake Newsletter
News From Ran Blake HQ

July 2006

At Piano


Welcome to the July issue of Ran’s monthly newsletter.

NEC Mourns President Daniel Steiner

Daniel SteinerDaniel Steiner, president of NEC since 1999, died on June 11 of complications from chronic lung disease. He was 72.

A strong supporter of the Contemporary Improvisation department where Ran teaches, Steiner is credited with hiring key faculty members, increasing student applications, creating a joint degree program with Harvard, and launching a major capital campaign.

A nonmusician, Steiner had worked for 22 years as Harvard University’s general counsel before coming to NEC.

“Although I didn’t know him well, I had tremendous respect for him,” Ran said. “After Harvard, he could have done so many things, but he chose to dedicate the rest of his life to the Conservatory with great passion.”

A tribute to Daniel Steiner is available on the NEC website.

Album Spotlight

Epistrophy

Ran considers Epistrophy, an album of solo piano honoring Thelonious Monk, his most artistically successful tribute album. The album was released in 1992 on Soul Note Records.

“Monk is one of the obsessions of my life,” Ran said recently. “The first time I heard him, around 1951, I flipped. It’s almost surreal what he does with this right hand, and then his left hand is anchored in Harlem stride. I love the way he always does the unexpected, with his masterful use of silence. I also admire how he makes use of tradition but also dares to be corny at times.”

Ran’s connection to Monk is personal as well as musical. After seeing Monk perform dozens of times in the Fifties, he took a lesson from him. In the early Sixties, Ran became friends with Monk and his family in New York City, often stopping by to visit. He has many fond memories from this era.

Ran’s favorite performances on Epistrophy are “April in Paris,” “Reflections,” and the third version of the title track. (His favorite Monk albums are The Unique Thelonious Monk, Brilliant Corners, both released in 1956, and Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall, recorded in 1957 but released last year.)

Another highlight of Epistrophy is the wonderful liner notes by former Downbeat editor Art Lange, who describes Ran’s music as “a hazy, mysterious, dreamy soundscape which evokes as much as much as it obscures; as subtle and simultaneously descriptive as the wispiest of late Turner watercolors.”

Lange also point out that “Blake isn’t interpreting Monk, but using Monk as a spiritual inspiration, and reorganizing the familiar melodies and motifs into vignettes from his own life, energized by an inner necessity.”

Note: This is the second in an ongoing series revisiting Ran’s older albums. The June issue spotlighted Suffield Gothic.

Back Issues

This is the fifth issue of Ran’s monthly newsletter. If you missed a back issue and would like a copy, please send an email to stevemardon@yahoo.com specifying which issues you want.

Summer Course on Shostakovich

spend August studying a master

ShostakovichEach August, Ran offers an intensive weeklong course on one musician. This year’s subject is the Russian composer Dimitri Shostakovich.

The class meets five times (August 9, 11, 14, 15, 17), from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Four of the classes are at Ran’s Brookline’s studio. The class on Tuesday, August 15th is a public forum at NEC where you can hear performances and improvisations based on Shostakovich’s melodic content and interviews with prominent composers and scholars.

The class features Ran’s hallmark processes of ear training, blending listening, historical perspectives, memorization, discussion, and performance. Participants are encouraged to re-compose melodies and moods of Movement II of the 9th Symphony, Movements I and II of the 10th Symphony, and the beginning of String Quartet 13.

Jeffrey Levenberg, a violist and NEC student who delivered a presentation at the Mannes Institute for Music Theory at Yale University in July, will assist Ran in teaching the course.

If you have questions about the course, contact Ran at ran@ranblake.com. For information on registration, please contact NEC’s Margaret Ulmer (mulmer@newenglandconservatory.edu).

July Show in Paris

surprises at the chatelet

Ran’s July 7 performance at the illustrious Theatre du Chatelet in Paris went well. A good crowd enjoyed Ran’s set, which closed a four-day jazz festival. Ran performed an eight-part suite titled “Cinema Chatelet” that he describes as a soundtrack to an imaginary film directed by his heroes of cinema.

The trip provided a number of pleasant surprises, the biggest being that Ran’s show was moved from a small hall where it was scheduled to occur to the main stage. (Several earlier shows were moved to the larger hall because the air conditioning was more effective and it was better protected from street noise from soccer fans, so the promoters decided to move Ran’s there as well.) This made for an intimate atmosphere, since audience members sat directly on the huge stage.

Other highlights:
–greeting friends who came the show; Ran was especially grateful to friends who traveled from Greece, Germany, and Belgium
–seeing Wayne Shorter perform at the Chatelet with NEC alumni Danilo Perez on piano and John Patitucci on bass
–seeing local musicians Mondine and Ninine Garcia’s tribute to Django Reinhardt at La Chope des Puces, a small club in Saint-Ouen (a visit suggested by journalist Dan Carlinsky).
–chatting with Ron Howard when he and his wife walked into La Chope des Puces

Our thanks to David “Knife” Fabris, who accompanied Ran on the trip and provided many of the details of this account. Check out Knife’s photos of the trip here.

Student Spotlight

Dorothy Clark Live

dorothy clarkDorothy Clark, a former student of Ran’s who hosted his 70th birthday party at NEC last year, plays at the Lilypad in Cambridge’s Inman Square on August 5. Dorothy performs her interpretations of songs by artists ranging from Duke Ellington and Stephen Sondheim to Emmylou Harris and The Police, as well as some original material, backed by a 3-piece band.

The show begins at 10:30 p.m. and admission is $10.

See you next month.