Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Seamus Blake Is Playing Between Many Worlds

The saxophonist likes to range far and wide—both geographically and stylistically speaking

Seamus Blake (photo: Hardy Clink)

In 2002, the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition focused on saxophonists. There were 15 musicians, and the bar was set high enough that a player as polished and original as Marcus Strickland only placed third. The winner was 31-year-old Seamus Blake, a British-born, Vancouver-reared New Yorker who, at that point, was little known outside of a few select scenes. But as Ben Ratliff, writing for the New York Times, put it, Blake’s win was no contest. By the end, Ratliff wrote, “most at the competition, judges and spectators alike, agreed that he had more of everything: melody, harmony, time, coherence, originality.”

“I honestly didn’t think I would win,” Blake says now. “I entered because I wanted to meet Wayne (Shorter) and Herbie (Hancock), two of my biggest idols.” He not only got to meet them, but he played with them at the competition’s finale. Even so, Blake is modest about his achievement, shrugging it off as having been more about hard work and preparation than inborn ability. “I treated the competition like an important gig,” he recalls. “I like having gigs to practice for.”

Start Your Free Trial to Continue Reading

Become a JazzTimes member to explore our complete archive of interviews, profiles, columns, and reviews written by music's best journalists and critics.

J.D. Considine

J.D. Considine has been writing about jazz and other forms of music since 1977. His work has appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, Musician, Spin, Vibe, Blender, Revolver, and Guitar World. He was music critic at the Baltimore Sun for 13 years, and jazz critic at the Globe and Mail for nine. He has lived in Toronto since 2001.