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Ran Blake: From Music to Film and Back

By Published: January 9, 2004

RB: Oh we were at college together .We met on a September afternoon at Bard hall [at Bard College in upstate New York], she made the mistake of saying “you sound like Art Tatum”, which nobody else had ever said, and I said “what an interesting comment” and she said "I am considered somewhat interesting by some..." and then we had dinner that night and then we began to rehearse.

AAJ: And you began to rehearse, and how soon after you began rehearsing did you record that infamous record? [ The Newest Sound Around, 1962 on RCA]

RB: Oh..., well 7 years. We’re not the microwave society like today’s people Matana. We took our time and then we met Sunday morning at Ms. Lairfield’s--- by then she allowed us to have bleu cheese on our bagels--- and she would come and hear the rehearsals and give her two cents worth. We just loved rehearsing for the sake of it so it was just years and years. I think when we were both sophomores we stopped seeing each other much. She worked with a conventional trio and I did more solos and running to hear [saxophonist] Houston Person in Hartford or musicians in other places. It really was years and years.

AAJ: Well just looking from that record to the newest record you have out which is with the sons of Gunther Schuller- drummer George and Ed Schuller the bassist.[Sonic Temples GM]—you have some compositions on that record that you have recorded many times. A particular favorite seems to be Laura, [by Johnny Mercer and David Raskin] that you recorded also with Jeanne Lee more than once. What do you look for in the compositions that you choose of other composers? RB: I think mood, lyric—of course the movie I had liked. And then Jeanne saw it, but I look for something with good lyrics, like "We’ll be Together Again" [as sung by Al Green] is very important, and "Good Morning Heartache" by Irene Higgobotham from Worcester [Massachusetts], nobody knows her writing. "You and I" by Stevie Wonder. [I look for] something that’s sort of endearing like "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," "Sophisticated Lady," "Lush Life,"--- meaty words, grammaticism, but that doesn’t have to be a given. I think some of the words of the song "Dancing in the Dark" [Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz] that talk about eternity— there are two there lines in [that song] that are fabulous. I guess I look for a mood but for me the mood that I look for is often gray and dark and has a life span going back to the past, the present, and the future. So those are my favorite ones that—[I like] music that has memories.

AAJ: I know that Film Noir is very important to you, why is that? [Editors note: Film Noir means literally 'black film or cinema that was a term coined by French film critics. It is a genre of American films that first appeared in the 1940s, became well-known in post-war time, and lasted in a traditional phase until about 1960. Blake comments on his biographical hand out – Six Key Experiences : “At first I felt my musical life would revolve around the axis of program music but I became less enchanted by its most literal examples, and became more intrigued by the inner corridors of film and real life characters. This occurred without conscious effort and as my early teen years continued, this dark atmospheric mood occupied 80% of my life. Without strategy, I began to form an occasional judicious compilation of a sort of musical glossary that would signify death and law enforcement.]”

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