Third stream pianist and music educator Ran Blake has recorded a number of unique, often solo, jazz albums since the early '60s that showcase his dramatic contrasts of silence and "outbursts" and fresh reinventions of older standards. He has also made his mark on music by influencing music students for many decades at Boston's New England Conservatory of Music.
He was born in Springfield, MA, on April 20, 1935, and eventually got his degree from Bard College, in addition to studying at Columbia University and at the School of Jazz in his home state. In 1957, Blake began collaborating with vocalist Jeanne Lee, and the duo went on a European tour in 1963. His debut album, The Newest Sound Around, was awarded the RCA Album First Prize in Germany in 1963. The follow-up to his debut, Ran Blake Plays Solo Piano, was released on ESP in 1965. Two years later, Blake began teaching jazz at Boston's New England Conservatory of Music. Thirty years later, Blake was still educating students at N.E.C., and also served as chairman of the school's contemporary improvisation department.
Blake is the recipient of fellowships from the Massachusetts Artists Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, and the NEA. His recording has been sporadic and, most often, solo. His discography includes Blue Potato (Milestone, 1969); Third Stream Today (Golden Crest, 1977); Film Noir (Novus, 1980); Duke Dreams (Soul Note, 1981); a double-disc journey through jazz standards and international folk music alike called Painted Rhythms: The Complete Ran Blake (GMRecordings, 1985); one of his duos with Anthony Braxton, A Memory of Vienna (Hatology, 1988); and his duo with Clifford Jordan, Masters From Different Worlds (Mapleshade, 1989).
He recorded even less during the 1990s, but did create, among others: a tribute to Sarah Vaughan, Unmarked Van (Soul Note, 1995), and a revisiting of film noir material and other tunes in a duo with flügelhorn player and trumpeter Enrico Rava, entitled Duo en Noir (2000), recorded for composer Franz Koglmann's new label, Between the Lines. Other labels that have released Blake albums over the decades include the Owl, Horo, Crest, RCA, and Arista labels. In addition to his previously mentioned collaborators, Blake has also worked with Oscar Peterson, Jaki Byard, Mary Lou Williams, Mal Waldron, Houston Person, William Russo, Gunther Schuller, Kate Wolf, and Ricky Ford. ~ Joslyn Layne