Born: 1964 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Styles: Modern Creative, Post-Bop
Instruments: Sax (Tenor)
Jazz saxophonist Michael Blake was a member of the the Lounge Lizards from 1990 on, and kept active in a variety of other N.Y.C.-based creative jazz projects. After he was born in Montreal in 1964, his family moved to California for a short time, then settled back in Canada, in Vancouver, BC. While young, Blake attempted learning the violin and piano, but ended up taking to the clarinet. By high school, he was playing tenor saxophone and participating in a variety of performances, festivals, and workshops. At the age of 18, Blake studied harmony at a community college and began working professionally in various lineups. He began getting acquainted with the Vancouver scene after his first year in college, and got to know some of the creative players and composers there. In 1984, he took part in the Banff Jazz Workshop, where he met Cecil Taylor, Kenny Wheeler, Steve Coleman, and more. Blake returned to Banff the next summer, and afterward, received a Canada Council grant to live and study in N.Y.C. He returned to Vancouver at the end of his year away, and led his own quartet which competed at the Alcan Jazz Competition, greatly impressing the judges, but got disqualified on a technicality. So, at the age of 23, Blake returned to N.Y.C., making money by playing in merengue bands, as well as backing a variety of artists from Chubby Checker to Jack McDuff. His big break came in 1990 when John Lurie heard him playing at a downtown club; six months later, Blake joined Lurie's Lounge Lizards and picked up the soprano saxophone. In 1995, he composed the score for the movie Get Shorty. Two years later, Blake's first recording as a leader was released on Intuition, to much critical acclaim. Kingdom of Champa was produced by Teo Macero, and was an incredibly strong debut that incorporated Vietnamese music influences into a jazz album featuring such younger downtown New York greats as Thomas Chapin and Steven Bernstein. Blake has also worked regularly with bassist Ben Allison, and performs on his 1998 and 1999 Palmetto releases.
Drift was issued in early 2001. Other projects of Blake's include his Free Association ensemble; a groove quartet, Slow Poke, which toured Canada; his work with Canadian musicians Chris Brown and Kate Fenner (he performs on their CD, Geronimo); and Whipcracker, his project with Scott Harding. Blake has also performed or recorded with Groove Collective, Medeski, Martin & Wood, Tricky, Gil Evans Orchestra, Pinetop Perkins, and the Herbie Nichols Project.
- Joslyn Layne (All Music Guide)