May, 2013

May 2013


Welcome to the May issue of Ran’s monthly newsletter. As noted at left and below, readers in the Tri-state area have several chances to see Ran perform in the next few weeks, either with vocalist Sara Serpa or solo. We hope you can make one of these shows.

Ran’s Reflections
Mary Lou Williams

mary lou williamsThe first of a two-part series.

I first met Mary Lou Williams when my parents took me to a club called The Composer. The Billy Taylor Trio with Earl May and Ed Thigpen were playing alternate sets with her. We had come early for the cocktail set where John Mehegan began the evening. I was studying with John in the Julliard Extension Program. It was delightful to hear John, Billy Taylor, and especially percussionist Thigpen, but nothing quite hit me like the Mary Lou Williams set. She did some ballads and a number with her own type of stride called “Nicole.” In Linda Dahl’s wonderful book, Morning Glory, she mentions that this particular piece was dedicated to Nicole Barkley from Barkley Records in France.

There were a couple of instances where I would play piano for her. She would often critique me. I believe when I offered her an honorarium, she asked me to make a contribution to the Bel Canto Foundation, which was sorely in need. This all took place from 1954 to 1956.

I would go down again and again to hear Mary Lou when I was a student at Bard College. I remember going to the East Village to visit her at a modest shop, which she called the Bel Canto Foundation. In Dahl’s book, she mentions that this foundation was further uptown, and perhaps the main corridors were, but I distinctly remember a storefront shop where people donated clothing and other necessities for people with great needs.

One weekend when I came from Suffield, Conn., to study with Mary Lou, she got me an overnight place to stay with a friend of hers near East 51st Street.

When I graduated from Bard College, I moved in August 1960 to the apartment belonging to Amelia Lehrfield. She was 89 at the time and kept a respectful Yiddish apartment, where Friday night celebrations were required of her tenant. During that time I often went to Sweet Daddy Grace’s Church, the Apollo, and the Avenue then known as the 7th. The Joe Wells Supper Club, which specialized in chicken, waffles, and wonderful jazz, was located right next to Count Basie’s Club. At the Joe Wells Club, one could hear many artists such as Abbey Lincoln and, of course Mary Lou Williams. Mary Lou really let loose there. We heard much more blues, “What’s Your Story Morning Glory,” some boogie-woogie, and her show ballads were much more plaintive and much less polite than they were at The Composer. Mary Lou wasn’t as daring as Ornette, Monk, or Chris Connor at her best, but what beauty she had … the history of her music; the caressing, soft sounds; every lush Hawaiian waterfall. When she played the blues and they cried out, she was a blues pianist.

What a time to live in. There was such vitality.

Upcoming Events
shows in NYC and MA

June 14 & 15 — Ran and vocalist Sara Serpa will perform sets at 8 and 9:30 p.m. at the Kitano Hotel in New York City.

June 16 — Ran performs solo at 6 p.m. at Zeb’s in New York City. Presented by Cobi Narita.

July 25 — Ran performs at the Fox Hill Retirement Community in Westwood, Mass., from 8 to 9 p.m.

Ran and Sara


All About Jazz Review
2 recent CDs

Critic C. Michael Bailey reviewed Ran’s two most recent duet albums with vocalists — Aurora with Sara Serpa and Down Here Below with Christine Correa — in May for Excerpts follow:

On Aurora: “‘The Band Played On’ is where everything fully clicks. The late-19th Century popular tune is delivered as a crippled calliope song with Serpa taking her liberties with the material, making it suited for the remake of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. While this sounds negative, it is anything but. A certain genius on Serpa and Blake’s part governs the interpretation of these songs, something beyond the postmodern … something well beyond.”

On Down Here Below: “The pair also doubles Oscar Brown, Jr.’s ‘Freedom Day,’ delivering an almost desperately anxious performance in the first take, while the second take comes off more rhythmically sound with Correa no less extroverted than the first take. ‘Brother, Can You Spare Me A Dime’ is completely transformed from a saloon tune to a post-modern blues hymn. Where Serpa is finesse and irony, Correa is sheer power and fractured momentum.”

Read the full review here. Aurora is available from Clean Feed Records and Down Here Below is available from cdbaby.

Ran and Sara #2



Ran’s book, The Primacy of the Ear, is available from 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.

Thanks for reading. We’ll see you in June.

Vol. 9, No. 5