Ran Blake: From Music to Film and Back
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, lyricof 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.]”
RB: Well I think it because it was a part of my childhood--- I discovered [the film] Spiral Staircase [directed by David O. Selnick] in ’46; A world of mystery but its not quite supernatural, ghost, or horror and there isn’t blood, and it’s not big city crime, and I guess why is it?why do some people like gardenias? Really even at this ageI’m going to be 70 in a year and I still don’t know why. There’s some bad film noir. My favorite director [is] Claude Chabrol, but there's a lot of varietythere can be a romantic, a fantasy film noir, a more biting noir, etc.
AAJ: But you like the noir that’s more shaded or gray right?
RB: Yes I do like a few sun cloudsits great when there’s a moment of happiness, but it’s more subtle and often it’s interior and it’s a transference of guilt, it’s just not somebody [going] bang! bang!its how like a [Alfred] Hitchcock character sometimes is accused by the police and sometimes she or he are very innocent but you're always wondering and sometimes there are great visual shots in the dark and in candlelight. I could go on and on...
AAJ: Well how has that grayness affected your musical sight—what’s the connection?
RB: I thinkwell I don’t do much psychoanalysis of myself---I don’t know it just does. I think because I watch the movies and then I go to the piano. It's different than like a conservatory and budgets and all. Like [the film] Vertigo [ directed by Alfred Hitchcock], my month is not complete if I don’t see it--- there’s James Stewart looking at Kim Novak looking at her mothers painting and there you see her looking backwards, even if sometimes they’re playing con games there's all those sub meanings. There is feeling in that aloneness, going back to the past, the nostalgia.
AAJ: Who introduced you to Noir?
RB: Oh I snuck there, I must of read the papers in Hartford and Springfield Massachusetts I didn’t call it noir I just went to the moviesI remember I had a piggy bank with pencils and I snuck in one day and the manager noticed me at the theater and said “you’ve been here two or three times this week what would your parents say?” I would hide in the back of theaterall people under [age] 14 had to out of the theater at 6pmI knew which back door to sneak out of. I could come back into the theater but then my parents started getting suspicious so they sort of banned [it], they said I could see other movies but they didn’t want me to see anything of this nature, I mean the story goes on and on. Well, just a how does one fall in love? or why do some people like scotch and somebody else jack daniels?