Elevate Me: Michael Blake's New York World-Jazz
MB: I mean, could we get more Eisenhower? It was more like cabaret, I mean please don't call it 'jazz.' Norah Jones ' I know the guys on the record, they know they're not playing jazz, they're playing good pop music, and it is good. She likes country, she's got roots. Cincotti, I don't know what that is. It's harder for men as singers.
AAJ: It seems there's a lot more obscurity in jazz than there was. Artists have a harder time getting recognition today than John Coltrane did.
MB: I think it's always been a real collectors-kind-of-audience. There are a lot of things making it real difficult for current artists, younger artists to sell. How can you compete, with a new record that's 15 or 20 dollars, when people can buy Miles Smiles for 11 or 12 dollars?
It's like the 'Ken Burns Jazz' thing: What happened to Carla Bley, the great Keith Jarrett quartet records with Dewey Redman, people whose writing and focus on composition was showing some brightness, pushing it to the future? In the '80s so many of those guys were eclipsed by the bebop nazis and just bad records. Carla Bley said she can't really afford to tour America with her mini-big-band.
Wynton played on Ted's [Nash's] new record. It's funny and kind of ironic in a way that Frank Kimbrough is on a record with Wynton Marsalis. When it comes to music, there are no 'issues.' In New York there's so many cliques, but sometimes people are really getting pulled together, especially in large ensembles such as the Eulipion Orchestra. I've enjoyed breaking down those little worlds and getting people from all over New York together to play.
AAJ: Who are some examples of saxophonists you admire today? Who inspires you to keep playing jazz despite your reservations?
MB: I think Joe Lovano has been a huge influence on a lot of saxophone players right now in a positive way, in a linear, chromatic way, the post-Coltrane style of Steve Grossman and Bob Berg. People started getting a warmer sound, a less pinched, hard sound [after Lovano's success]. I hear players from Sweden and just all over who are doing interesting things. I'm constantly blown away by Ted Nash. It's nice to see Ted getting into the [Village] Vanguard. I mean I'm not in awe of him, [but] he's an incredibly talented multi-instrumentalist, a real musician's musician and also a great writer.
I don't really keep up with the Joneses, you know? If I put on music, it's gonna be sort of one of the older guys, one of those masters: Yusef Lateef, Roland Kirk, Lucky Thompson. I do try to seek out new inspiration. I find that just working keeps you inspired and focused, just playing all the time and constantly getting new ideas.
AAJ: I enjoyed hearing the Eulipion Orchestra at the JCC Festival. Would you talk a little about that?