08/15/14

Violinist John Blake Jr. Dead at 67

Worked as leader and with McCoy Tyner, Grover Washington Jr., and others

Violinist John Blake Jr. passed away Aug. 15 from complications of multiple myeloma, according to a Facebook post from his son, Johnathan Blake. The place of death was not mentioned but the elder Blake was 67.

Blake recorded several albums as a leader for the Gramavision and Sunnyside labels, and served as a sideman for artists such as Grover Washington Jr., McCoy Tyner, Archie Shepp, James Newton, Steve Turre and others.

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John Blake Jr.
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John Blake Jr.

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Born John Edward Blake Jr. July 3, 1947 in South Philadelphia, the classically trained Blake began playing violin in the Philadelphia public school system and at the Settlement Music School. He graduated from West Virginia University, did postgraduate work at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Montreux, Switzerland, and received a grant to study studied East Indian music. A composer, arranger and producer as well as an author, teacher and lecturer, Blake served on the faculty of the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and at the Manhattan School of Music in New York City. He was also a guest lecturer at Berklee College of Music in Boston and, in 2004, was appointed to the Basler Chair of Excellence for the winter semester at East Tennessee State University. That year also was awarded a Chamber Music America Jazz Composer Grant.

Blake first gained recognition on early-’70s recordings with Shepp and in the mid-’70s spent three years recording and touring as a member of Grover Washington, Jr.’s band. He then spent five years working in ensembles led by pianist Tyner. Among other artists with whom Blake has performed and/or recorded with are the Duke Ellington Orchestra, Turtle Island String Quartet, Quartet Indigo, the Billy Taylor Trio, Avery Sharpe, Cecil McBee and Jay Hoggard.

Blake released his debut as a leader and composer, Maiden Dance, in 1984, on Gramavision Records; another release for that label teamed him up with fellow jazz violinists Michal Urbaniak and Didier Lockwood. His sixth album, 1992’s Quest (Sunnyside), reunited him with Washington. Blake’s first recording with his last quartet, The Traveler, was released in 2007.

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