Tenor saxophonist Ron Blake and guitarist Bobby Broom have played together many times over the years, going back to Broom’s 1997 album, Waitin’ and Waitin,’ and beyond. It was Broom who hired Blake for his band shortly after his college years. The strong chemistry between these musicians is one of numerous elements that make Mistaken Identity—Blake’s first album under his own name in 15 years—special. (They’re joined by Nat Reeves or Reuben Rogers on bass and Kobie Watkins on drums.) Another key factor is the heartfelt inclusion of songs by jazz legends who have played important roles in Blake’s personal life as well as his career.
“Uncle” Benny Golson’s classic “Stablemates” is performed with soulful clarity. The late Johnny Griffin’s beautiful minor key ballad “When We Were One” features Blake at his most lyrical on tenor. Then there is Blake’s hero Sonny Rollins’s “Allison” (from his underrated 1987 album, Dancing in the Dark), on which the tenorist’s unencumbered playing is bolstered by Broom’s forceful comping and sweetened by the guitarist’s unison lines.
Recorded before and after the Covid lockdown Mistaken Identity boasts a pair of Blake originals, the lively postbop vehicle “Beyond Yesterday’s Tomorrows” and the ruminative “Grace Ann,” a duet with Rogers. Broom contributed “No Hype Blues,” one of the first songs Blake played with him. The golden Blue Note era is recalled via Duke Pearson’s “Is That So?” And steel pan artist Victor Provost wrote the title calypso tune, which celebrates Blake’s Caribbean roots and Rollins’s classic “St. Thomas.”
Ron Blake was born in Santurce, Puerto Rico on September 7, 1965 (he’s thrilled to share a birthday with Rollins) and grew up in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. The youngest of four children, he inherited his architect father’s love of jazz, particularly the alto saxophone, which he began playing in school at age 10 (having first taken guitar lessons at eight).
In 1979, at the age of 14, Blake left home to attend the National Music Camp in Interlochen, Michigan for three consecutive summers and remained there to enroll in the Interlochen Arts Academy where he completed his junior and senior years of high school. He studied music there under distinguished classical saxophonist Dr. Frederick L. Hemke. Hemke then convinced Blake to attend Northwestern University outside of Chicago, where he taught.
It was at Northwestern that Blake committed himself to jazz and started playing baritone and tenor, in addition to alto saxophone. He received the Presidential Award for Outstanding Artistic and Academic Achievement. When he began playing at various clubs in suburban Evanston, where Northwestern is located, he was largely unfamiliar with Chicago’s celebrated Tough Tenor tradition. But with tenor greats including Von Freeman, Clifford Jordan, Eddie Johnson, and Fred Anderson still active on the scene, and Johnny Griffin paying his annual visits from Europe, he gained a deep appreciation for it.