December, 2012

December 2012


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

Ran’s Reflections

Lush Life

lush lifeFor many years “Lush Life” has been a favorite song of mine and it’s also a number that I have storyboarded throughout my life with ingredients of plot, character and a rather sad scenario.

The main character is Amelia Lehrfield, who was 89 years old when I met and boarded with her at 507 W. 113th St. in New York City, which was on the corner of Amsterdam Ave. The apartment was very near Columbia University, Sweet Daddy Grace’s Church and the Apollo Theater.

Miss Lehrfield often talked about the old days. Occasionally she’d mention sad memories of relatives who were caught in the Holocaust.

But many of her memories were beautiful and had the essence of deep nostalgia. She kept a scrapbook in her room with pictures of her family and the fashionable gowns she wore in the teens and 20’s of the last century

She would go to Upper West Side ballrooms and especially loved the A train subway, which was not the one that was convenient to her house.

She lived very simply, had mild and elegant friends, and used old words of admiration such as “swell”.

As I got to know her, she met George Russell, Gunther Schuller, Sister Tee, and the Modern Jazz Quartet. I like to feel I changed her life, and I know George Russell introduced her to Bordeaux wine when she was 90 and was thinking that it was a sour grape drink.

As I got to know her those important three or four years, I became obsessed by her life and memories. Many of these were shared on the Friday night Sabbath evenings where the curfew was strict.

I remember often looking in her private room, you might say being a voyeur, but she was very well aware and had give me permission to occasionally join her and I saw these vivid reminders of the past. Often I played “Lush Life” on my phonograph in the apartment.

My version of the piece takes place late at night. It’s raining. We are across from a firehouse where a lonely Dalmatian is sitting. Pedestrians are walking outside, coming from either St. John the Divine or St. Luke’s Hospital. But we only hear occasional murmurs as Ms. Lehrfield is talking about 1922, where she meets a young man called Eugene who was a swell dresser. He took her to Harlem on the A train and gave her a music box.

Now there is thunder in the air and we hear the music box. We leave the verse of the piece, come back to reality during the A section, and then the piano will move to waltz time during the bridge when she collapses at a dance upon hearing of the death of a family member.

The light fades in her room as she grows older. The photographs of her past fade, her skin wrinkles, and yet the music box plays late into the night. She moves back from the pluperfect tense to the present tense.

I vividly remember these scenes from more than 63 years ago.

Upcoming Events

Ran & Co. at NEC

bag January 28 — Ran will perform Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” at the New England Conservatory’s Jazz and Contemporary Improvisation Faculty Spotlight concert at Jordan Hall. The performance will be dedicated to Amelia Lehrfield, Madame Margaret Challof, and Nat King Cole. Read more about the evening here, and read Ran’s liner notes for his performance at left.

January 29 — Ran and co-producer Aaron Hartley present “Brando Noir,” a tribute to Marlon Brando. Students and faculty of NEC’s Contemporary Improvisation department perform along with clips from Brando’s films, creating a real-time original score as they respond to the drama through improvisations, recompositions, and reinterpretations of the original orchestrations.

The 8 p.m. show, at Jordan Hall, is free. Read more about it here.

Aurora Reviews

Live release with Sara Serpa

auroraAurora, a new live duet album with Ran and vocalist Sara Serpa on the Portugese Clean Feeds label, continues to draw favorable reviews. Some excerpts from December reviews:

Eyal Hareuveni, AllAboutJazz: “Throughout, Serpa and Blake stress a unique and profound understanding of the relationship between melody and words, as they rediscover the songs and themselves within the songs. … A most beautiful musical and emotional adventure.” Read the full review.

Jordan Richardson, SomethingElse!: Aurora is a rousing, diverse, stimulating program from Serpa and Blake. From a laid-bare performance of Billie Holiday’s ‘Strange Fruit’ to the bouncy pithiness of ‘Fine and Dandy,’ this is an undertaking that does not dare play it safe. Full review

Cormac Larkin, Irish Times: “Blake’s darkly enigmatic harmonies, delicately poised between form and freedom, throw Serpa’s unaffected but affecting vocals into sharp relief; the results stand alongside the very best of the piano-vocal tradition. Their latest offering is a fascinating collection of lesser spotted standards …” Full review

The album was recorded during a concert last May at Lisbon’s Auditório da Culturgest and at a private session at the theater the day before. You can read more about the album and order the CD on the label’s website, and sample the songs and download MP3s from Amazon. You can also view a promotional video about the collaboration on YouTube.

Winter Break 2012

dinnerRan enjoys a holiday dinner with friends.


Ran’s book, The Primacy of the Ear, is available on The book outlines Ran’s philosophy on development of the ear and explains how musical memory is the key to becoming a more potent musician and shaping a personal musical style.

To learn more about studying at NEC’s Contemporary Improvisation department, please visit its website or contact Department Chairperson Hankus Netsky.

Happy New Year,

Vol. 8, No. 12

You can read back issues here.