"Lee’s deep tone, enchanting voice, and prodigious technique combine with Ran’s unique piano style make the duo sound like an orchestra. Their stories of old friends are challenging, imaginative and eccentric, yet full of love, care, and humanity. They always dance through melodies with devotion and intelligence, and the feeling of their music is always intimate" ~ Danilo Pérez
Ran Blake and Jeanne Lee, The Newest Sound You Never Heard 1966-67 (2019, 005)
Braithwaite & Katz Communications
A-Side Records to Release Previously Unheard Music from the Revered, Adventurous Duo of Vocalist Jeanne Lee and Pianist Ran Blake
The Newest Sound You Never Heard collects nearly two hours of stunning recordings from 1966 and 1967, featuring daring explorations of compositions by Thelonious Monk, Ornette Coleman, The Beatles, Ray Charles, Charlie Parker, and others
“[The Newest Sound Around] remains a masterpiece of dark-hued intimacy.”
– Peter Margasak, Chicago Reader
“The dark sensuality of Lee’s voice and the icy, clipped notes of Blake’s piano create a mesmerizing effect, attractive and unsettling at the same time... a singular classic of voice and piano blending in a way no one has quite been able to match.” – Jerome Wilson, The Real Folk Blues
In 1961, two musicians who’d met as Bard College classmates entered the studio to record their mutual debut album. Jeanne Lee and Ran Blake emerged with The Newest Sound Around, an iconic pairing of voice and piano that was simultaneously intimate and adventurous, stark yet boundless, intensely focused but warmly embracing. Lee and Blake would continue to tour together sporadically through the 1960s, but fans had to wait nearly three decades for a follow-up release, You Stepped Out of a Dream, in 1989. Their lifelong friendship and collaboration came to a close with Lee’s death in 2000.
Miraculously, The Newest Sound You Never Heard now doubles the material available from this unparalleled duo. The double album will be released January 25, 2019, just a few days before Lee would have celebrated her 80th birthday, via A-Side Records in conjunction with the Ran Blake Foundation and New England Conservatory, where Blake has taught for more than 50 years, and under the generous umbrella of VRT-Archive and their employees who were very kind in allowing this material to come out. The Newest Sound You Never Heard collects nearly two hours of previously unheard material recorded in Europe in 1966 and 1967.
These soul-stirring performances sound wholly unique, profoundly moving and thrillingly immediate despite having been captured more than half a century ago. Dominique Eade, another supremely gifted singer and NEC faculty member with whom Blake has enjoyed a fruitful collaboration, writes in her liner notes that, “Hearing these recordings after knowing their previous work so well creates a sensation similar to that of dreaming you have found an extra room in your house: It is at once familiar and otherworldly.”
Recorded by the late Belgian composer, producer and Jazz Middelheim festival founder Elias Gistelinck, The Newest Sound You Never Heard was captured at the studios of Belgian radio and television station VRT (then BRT – Belgium Radio and Television) and at a live performance in Brussels. The tapes remained in the VRT archives for nearly 40 years until being rediscovered. Their existence was brought to Blake’s attention Eli Kessler, at that time a student drummer at NEC who learned of them while in Brussels. From there, Blake and A-Side founder Aaron Hartley licensed the material for this breathtaking release.
The Newest Sound You Never Heard finds Lee and Blake venturing through a wide range of repertoire, from American Songbook standards to jazz classics by Duke Ellington and Charlie Parker, through more experimental fare by Ornette Coleman, Julian Priester and Abbey Lincoln to then-contemporary pop hits by
The Beatles and Bob Dylan. Each piece becomes a thorough reimagining of the source material, often startling in its crystalline beauty and bold unpredictability. The musicians are unafraid to revel in fraught silences or veer off the expected pathways into unfamiliar territory.
“There is no one like Jeanne Lee in the world,” declares Blake. “She was the most incredible human being: her sage wisdom, her charm, her wittiness, her humor, her feelings for humanity and her kindness to everybody in the world. She was such a vibrant personality and, of course, what a voice. I felt she’d be in my life till the very end.”
Sadly that was not to be the case, but in her deeply-felt and probing duets with Blake, Lee left behind a rich and searching legacy. A fearless experimentalist with a wide-ranging tone, she collaborated with a host of innovative voices including Anthony Braxton, Archie Shepp, Mal Waldron, Marion Brown, John Cage and Gunter Hampel. She also contributed to Carla Bley’s masterpiece, Elevator Over the Hill.
Lee and Blake met as freshmen at Bard in 1956. They bonded over their shared love for Billie Holiday and Thelonious Monk; Lee had grown up in the Bronx, next door to Monk’s sister-in-law, Skippy. Like their revered debut, which opened with a version of “Blue Monk,” The Newest Sound You Never Heard begins with a Monk composition – in this case, a mysterious and enchanting take on “Misterioso” with words taken from a poem by Gertrude Stein.
The album wends its way through a variety of moods, from the wistful “On Green Dolphin Street” to a rambunctious “A Hard Day’s Night;” the playful tug-of-war of the nonsensical “Ja-Da” to an ominously urgent “Something’s Coming;” the foreboding moan of Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman” to the stunningly aching rendition of “The Man I Love,” constantly threatening to get lost in love’s reverie.
“The sound just came to us,” Blake says in regards to finding their distinctive take on each song. “I wanted to grow in her direction and she would listen to me. We worked on repertoire, phrasing, dark colors, modulation, themes, plots, characters – but the sound took care of itself.”
Both Lee and Blake also take a few solo turns: Lee stuns with her sensuous a cappella version of “Billie’s Blues,” capturing the song’s (and Billie Holiday’s) complicated whirl of emotions, defiant yet desirous, steely and vulnerable. Blake essays a knotty exploration of Fats Waller’s “Honeysuckle Rose,” an alternately hushed and thunderous run through “God’s Image,” and a pair of originals – the cinematic “Smoke After Smoke” and the abstract “The Frog, the Fountain, and Aunt Jane.”
That sound, writes pianist (and former NEC colleague) Danilo Pérez in his liner notes, takes listeners on “a journey full of beauty and unexpected turns. Their music is a playground for the ear and a trip to incredible places for all souls alike. They may play a song, or they may choose to play the philosophy of the song.”
This welcome release is a treasure trove of unexpected delights and mesmerizing storytelling. Jeanne Lee and Ran Blake are both masters of interiorizing and excavating the emotions of a song, and The Newest Sound You Never Heard provides ample evidence of their evocative chemistry and heartfelt relationship. Blake’s hope is that Lee “finds her place up there in the history, not just as a singer but as a fabulous musician and innovator.” A place where he also belongs by her side, a fact of which these stellar recordings leave absolutely no doubt.
In a career that now spans nearly six decades, pianist Ran Blake has created a unique niche in improvised music as an artist and educator. With a characteristic mix of spontaneous solos, modern classical tonalities, the great American blues and gospel traditions, and themes from classic Film Noir, Blake’s singular sound has earned a dedicated following all over the world. His dual musical legacy includes more than 40 albums on some of the world’s finest jazz labels, as well as more than 50 years as a groundbreaking educator at Boston’s New England Conservatory.
From the moment Ran sets up the piano intro for Misterioso, and Jeanne Lee sings the top note of Monk’s original melody in the key of F, you know this is going to be a journey full of beauty and unexpected turns. Their music is a playground for the ear and a trip to incredible places for all souls alike. They may play a song, or they may choose to play the philosophy of the song. Their ability to create a long story out of a short narrative is extraordinary. It takes fearless imagination and an open mind to interpret the past, present, and future of music the way they do it. The sound they produce together is one of those cosmic combinations that come once in a lifetime. They dance to the lyrics when they play, and there is no attachment to a steady pulse or anything that may close the boundaries of their creativity. Nothing feels ordinary or mundane; every note has a meaning.
One of many epic examples is Green Dolphin Street, which contracts and expands continuously. The key changes are subtle, and the tone and rhythm help create a heroic adventure. Lee sings the lyrics with different tonal qualities, and wide vocal range provides Ran with the space to experiment with his singular chordal textures, the blues, tonalities, and tempo shifts. After Lee introduces the melody in the key of C and Eb in a slow captivating way, Ran picks up the tempo and returns to C major for his first variation with a Latin feel, while using stride piano to keep the story unfolding. Jeanne comes back with the melody in F major and then smoothly shift it to Ab. Ran takes another variation starting in Ab and by the time Jeanne comes back to sing the last chorus she is in B major. The way they end the song is remarkable. Lee sings a C# (the 9 of B major) and Ran answers with the Latin excerpt played before, now in a higher register, creating a parallel universe in C dominant against her note. Then, Lee almost magically shifts from C# to the original key of C, giving a sense of a past resolution, in the present.
Throughout the recordings, Ran and Lee develop material to create alternative realities with a cinematic combination of musicality, sound, and images. His piano comments can create an atmosphere full of surprises, combining imagination with darkness, sweetness, elegance, and humor, without sacrificing the feeling of hope in the music. The musical depth in this recording can only be achieved by two artists who have dedicated their lives to nurturing a sound together. Blake reinvents the popular standard by incorporating influences from films, the Afro-American classical tradition, as well as classical composers. He finds the common tones and connections among many disciplines expanding our minds and ears.
Lee’s deep tone, enchanting voice, and prodigious technique combine with Ran’s unique piano style make the duo sound like an orchestra. Their stories of old friends are challenging, imaginative and eccentric, yet full of love, care, and humanity. They always dance through melodies with devotion and intelligence, and the feeling of their music is always intimate. Ran and Lee rely on their ears to create a unique tonal magnetism, negotiating with the unexpected constantly. This record is a monumental testament of the newest sound you’ve never heard. I want to stay in their realm forever.
June 10, 2018
I see them there at the Neptun Hotel in Bergen, Norway, in the spring of 1963 in the middle of their 3-week engagement, room and board and expensive European phone calls all paid for by the venue, and a nice piano available during the day for rehearsals. Maybe Jeanne, in the same calm, unflappable manner in which she sings, is helping Ran locate his misplaced passport. They play a set every night following a jazz trio, and, foreshadowing the huge success of their upcoming engagement at Stockholm’s Golden Circle, the audience is counting on their late set, so much so that owner Gunnar Holm, who otherwise is treating them royally, won’t let them switch sets to catch up on their sleep, even for one night.
Their friendship began when she heard him playing the piano in Bard Hall one afternoon, the best piano on the Bard College campus, where they were both freshmen. “You sound like Art Tatum,” she said, and though that wasn’t one of his immediate heroes, he thanked her. I suspect he was interested that she knew enough to make that reference, and she was likely intrigued when she sensed that he was not entirely flattered by the comparison.
In some ways, their relationship began before they met, in a crisscross of people and musical influences that helped them recognize each other in that moment (September 26, 1956 at 3:45, Ran recalls precisely). She grew up in the Bronx, next to Nellie Monk’s sister, Skippy, and later, Skippy’s daughter, Jackie. Thelonious Monk was an important artist for both Ran and Jeanne. (Ran recalls seeing Monk hug Abbey Lincoln at Abbey’s Candid recording session, after she sang her lyrics to “Blue Monk,” recorded again by Ran and Jeanne on this CD.) Jeanne loved Billie Holiday, also a critical artist for Ran, whose repertoire they would cover on their first album. Though their childhoods and backgrounds were quite different, music took on a deep meaning for them both. Despite growing up in a household where there was little interest in music, against all odds, Ran found his way musically and, at one point, ended up playing piano at a Pentecostal church in Hartford, CT. Jeanne’s father was a concert and church singer and Jeanne heard the music of Paul Robeson and Marian Anderson around the house from an early age.
When they met that day, I wonder if they had a glimpse, not only of what they shared in their pasts, but of the future they would forge together, filled with devoted and larger-than-life benefactors such as Dorothy Wallace and the Countess Florence de Lannoy, a flat at 507 West 113th Street where Ran rented a room from Amelia Lehrfield and where Jeanne, George Russell and gospel pianist/singer Sister Tee of the Sweet Daddy Grace Church were regular guests and introduced the proprietress to wine and the music of the Modern Jazz Quartet. A future that included winning first prizes (though never four in a row, the required number to secure a weeklong engagement there) at the Apollo Theater, overseen by tap dancer Honi Coles, a subsequent tour to Europe at the behest of German impresario Joachim Berendt, a groundbreaking record produced by George Avakian for RCA, and a deep friendship and musical collaboration that lasted decades. My sense is that they must have at least felt that something was coming, and that is why, as I sat with Ran to discuss this new release on an afternoon in May of 2018, the names, dates and significance of all these people and events remained crystal clear.
In the fall of 1966, Ran and Jeanne returned to Europe and in 1966 and 1967 they recorded the music on this release, thanks to the vision of Elias Gistelinck. Hearing these recordings after knowing their previous work so well creates a sensation similar to that of dreaming you have found an extra room in your house: It is at once familiar and otherworldly. The repertoire is similar to some on previous recordings, but there are also notable differences, including forays into Dylan and Lennon and McCartney, both suggested by Ran. They cover Charlie Parker with lyrics by King Pleasure, a vocalese on “Night in Tunisia,” recorded by Frank Minion (’58) and Eddie Jefferson (’61), both brought by Jeanne. They swing a mutually loved signature piece by Ray Charles with emphatic joy, find familiar territory in standards by Ellington, Strayhorn, and Porter, and return to the Jackie and Roy songbook for a spare reading of “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most.” They address current political issues in an unflinching reading of Julian Priester’s “Retribution” with lyrics by Abbey Lincoln, and in Blake’s “Birmingham,” and make minimalist wordplay out of the 1918 nonsensical hit, “Ja-da,” and Gertrude Stein’s poetry fit to Monk’s “Misterioso.”
Alone and together, their sense of mood, atmosphere, and conviction to the truthful unfolding of each story is unparalleled. Jeanne sings with a wisdom and intimacy that brings her close to the listener while she keeps one keen and optimistic eye on the distant horizon. She is remarkably poised and deliberate melodically, rhythmically and emotionally, even as Ran responds and adapts, lags behind or scouts ahead, fracturing and remolding the terrain underfoot in a way no other pianist can. They stay deeply connected through tempo and feel changes, reharmonizations, dynamic and textural shifts and unexpected modulations. From the moment of their first meeting, these two musicians dedicated themselves to playing together, rehearsing not just for the next gig, but in order to form the bond that allows this freedom and exchange between their kindred spirits, creating a unique sound that we lucky listeners get to enjoy now, again and anew, on the newest sound we never heard.
May 18, 2018
Ran Blake and Jeanne Lee
The Newest Sound You Never Heard
2019 (A-Side Records, 0005)
CD 1: 1966
|1. Misterioso||Thelonious Monk/ Lyrics by Gertrude Stein||3:06|
|2. Honeysuckle Rose (solo Ran)||Fats Waller/ Lyrics by Andy Razaf||3:10|
|3. Green Dolphin St.||Bronisław Kaper/ Lyrics by Ned Washington||4:32|
|4. A Hard Day's Night||John Lennon & Paul McCartney||2:15|
|5. I Can't Give You Anything but Love||Jimmy McHugh/ Lyrics by Dorothy Fields||2:46|
|6. Hallelujah, I love Him So||Ray Charles||1:55|
|7. Night and Day||Cole Porter||5:41|
|8. Ja-Da (take 1)||Bob Carleton||1:42|
|9. Something's Coming||Leonard Bernstein/ Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim||4:35|
|10. Just Squeeze Me||Duke Ellington/ Lyrics by Lee Gaines||2:51|
|11. God’s Image (solo Ran)||traditional||2:15|
|12. Retribution||Julian Priester/ Lyrics by Abbey Lincoln||2:22|
|13. Smoke After Smoke (solo Ran)||Ran Blake||2:04|
|14. Parker’s Mood||Charlie Parker/ Lyrics by King Pleasure||4:13|
|15. Caravan||Juan Tizol & Duke Ellington/ Lyrics by Irving Mills||2:21|
|16. Beautiful City||Stephen Schwartz||2:37|
|17. Birmingham U.S.A.||Ran Blake||3:20|
|18. Ja-Da (take 2)||Bob Carleton||2:45|
|19. Take the A-Train||Billy Strayhorn/ Lyrics by Joya Sherrill||3:10|
CD 2: 1967
|1. Out of This World||Harold Arlen/ Lyrics by Johnny Mercer||1:48|
|2. Mister Tambourine Man||Bob Dylan||5:14|
|3. Round About||Vernon Duke||4:25|
|4. Moonlight in Vermont||Karl Suessdorf/ Lyrics by John Blackburn||2:59|
|5. The Frog, The Fountain, and Aunt Jane (solo Ran)||Ran Blake||2:56|
|6. Billie’s Blues (solo Jeanne)||Billie Holiday||3:23|
|7. Night in Tunisia||Dizzy Gillespie/ Lyrics by Frank Minion & Eddie Jefferson||4:10|
|8. My Favorite Things||Richard Rodgers/ Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein & Jeanne Lee||3:22|
|9. Blue Monk||Thelonious Monk/ Lyrics by Abbey Lincoln||4:44|
|10. Lonely Woman||Ornette Coleman/ Lyrics by Margo Guryan & Gunther Schuller||4:53|
|11. Caravan||Juan Tizol & Duke Ellington/ lyrics by Irving Mills||2:12|
|12. The Man I Love||George Gershwin/ Lyrics by Ira Gershwin||4:04|
|13. Something to Live For||Billy Strayhorn||2:45|
|14. Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most||Tommy Wolf/ Lyrics by Fran Landesman||5:48|
Thanks so much from the bottom of my heart to The Lee Family: Cavana Lee-Hampel, Gunter Hampel, Naima Hazelton, and Ruomi Hampel for all their support and warmth throughout the process of having this album come to fruition.
Warm Thanks to by friends and colleagues who wrote terrific liner notes, Dominique Eade, Vijay Iyer, Jason Moran, and Danilo Perez. It’s a great honor to have their thoughts included on this historic record.
Special thanks to my friends around the world who made this album possible and were great friends to Jeanne Lee and I throughout the years: Aaron Hartley, Rob Leurentop, Eli Kessler, Tony Kellers, Vlaamse Radio- en Televisieomroeporganisatie (VRT) and the folks at VRT, Jull Anthonissen, Johan Favoreel, Christine Fettweis, Paul Demeulder, Quida Dou-Dou (and her niece),Jacques Berkaert, Florent and Francoise Crommelynck, Elias Gistelinck, Comte Leopold and Comtesse, Marnix Guillaume, Paul and Mariette Roland, Barbara Belgrave and Ernest Stapel, Joanna Bruzdowicz, Catherine and Freddy Ballé, Constance, Minthia, Rose (Kervyn), and Florence de Lannoy, Hugo De Craen, David Linx, Larry Ruttman, Doug Wolf of Wolf and Greenfield Intellectual Property Law, David Herlihy Intellectual Property Law, Anderson Duff of Revision Legal Intellectual Property Law, Alice Russell, Jason Moran, Gardiner Hartmann, David “Knife” Fabris, John Campopiano, New England Conservatory (Boston, MA), Steve Mardon, Allan Chase, and Jeroen Slaets
October, 21st 1966
Studio 1, Vlaamse Radio- en Televisieomroeporganisatie (VRT)
Producer, Elias Gistelinck
Producer, Paul Van Dessel
Compilation Producer, Aaron Hartley
Recording Engineer, unknown
Master Engineer, unknown
Recorded by Vlaamse Radio- en Televisieomroeporganisatie (VRT), but location unknown
Producer, Elias Gistelinck
Producer, Paul Van Dessel
Compilation Producer, Aaron Hartley
Recording Engineer, unknown
Master Engineer, unknown
Artwork, Tony Kellers
Art, Ran Blake
I Am Rose
by Gertrude Stein
(Used in Misterioso, CD1: 1966, Track 1)
I am Rose my eyes are blue
I am Rose and who are you?
I am Rose and when I sing
I am Rose like anything.
My Favorite Things
by Richard Rodgers and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein
Lyric Verse by Jeanne Lee
(Used in Misterioso, CD2: 1967, Track 8)
Breathing the salt air
The comes from the ocean
Watching the sunlight on horses in motion
Just before sunrise when birds start to sing
RAN BLAKE (b. 20 April 1935, Springfield, MA)
In a career that now spans five decades, pianist Ran Blake has created a unique niche in improvised music as an artist and educator. With a characteristic mix of spontaneous solos, modern classical tonalities, the great American blues and gospel traditions, and themes from classic Film Noir, Blake’s singular sound has earned a dedicated following all over the world. His dual musical legacy includes more than 40 albums on some of the world’s finest jazz labels, as well nearly 40 years as a groundbreaking educator at Boston’s New England Conservatory.
Blake first discovered the dark, image laden and complex character driven films that would so influence his music at age 12 when he first saw Robert Siodmak’s Spiral Staircase. “There were post World War II musical nuances that if occasionally banal and as clichéd as yesterday’s soap operas, were often so eerie, haunting and unforgettable,” Blake would later write. “After more than eighteen viewings during a period of twenty days, plots, scenes, and melodic and harmonic surfaces intermingled, obtruding into my day life as well as my dreams.”
Long before the invention of virtual reality, Blake began mentally placing himself inside the films and real life scenarios that inspired his original compositions like “Spiral Staircase”, “Memphis” and “The Short Life of Barbara Monk”. The influence of the Pentecostal church music he also discovered growing up in Suffield, Connecticut, combined with his musical immersion in what he terms “a Film Noir world,” laid the groundwork for his earliest musical style.
That early style would become codified when he and fellow Bard College student and vocalist Jeanne Lee became a duo in the late 1950’s. Their partnership would create the landmark cult favorite The Newest Sound Around (RCA) in 1962, introducing the world to both their unique talents and their revolutionary approach to jazz standards. This debut recording would also show the advancing synthesis of Blake’s diverse influences with its haunting version of David Raksin’s title track from the movie Laura and his original tribute to his first experience with gospel music, “The Church on Russell Street”.
The Newest Sound Around was initiated and informally supervised by the man that would be come Blake’s most significant mentor and champion, Gunther Schuller. The two began their forty-year friendship at a chance meeting at Atlantic Records’ New York studio in January 1959. Less than two years earlier, Schuller coined the term “Third Stream” at a lecture at Brandeis University. Schuller was recording on Atlantic—helping to define his term in musical practice—with future jazz giants like John Lewis, Bill Evans, Eric Dolphy, and Ornette Coleman. Ran Blake came to the label to accept what he calls “a low level position” that allowed him to be near the music of inspirations like Chris Connor, Ray Charles, and Harlem’s famous Apollo Theater. Blake’s long association with Schuller, modern classical music, and Schuller’s controversial term began here, and was forged by years of friendship, collaboration and innovation.
One of the only people in the music world who could see the potential of Blake’s unorthodox sounding musical style, Schuller invited Blake to study at the Lenox School of Jazz in the summers of 1959 and 1960. While in Lenox, also home to the classical music mecca at Tanglewood in western Massachusetts, Blake studied with the jazz giants who formed the faculty of this one-of-a-kind institution—Lewis, Oscar Peterson, Bill Russo, and many others—and began formulating his style in earnest. He also studied in New York with piano legends Mary Lou Williams and Mal Waldron.
A year after Schuller became president of Boston’s New England Conservatory in 1967, Blake joined his mentor and many one-time teachers and inspirations, including George Russell, as a faculty member at NEC, the first American conservatory to offer a jazz degree. In 1973, Blake became the first Chair of the Third Stream Department, which he co-founded with Schuller at the school. He still holds this position—though the department was recently renamed the Contemporary Improvisation Department to address both its expansion from Blake’s own additions and the outdatedness of the term.
Blake’s teaching approach emphasizes what he calls “the primacy of the ear,” as he believes music is traditionally taught by the wrong sense. His innovative ear and style development process elevates the listening process to the same status as the written score. This approach compliments the stylistic synthesis of the original Third Stream concept, while also providing an open, broad based learning environment that promotes the development of innovation and individuality. Musicians of note Don Byron, Matthew Shipp, and John Medeski have studied with Blake at NEC.
Although Blake’s teaching career would soon become the second half of his dual musical legacy, his career as an influential performer and wholly individual jazz artist is his main source of fame. Following Jeanne Lee’s departure to become one of the premier vocalists in the burgeoning avant-garde, Blake recorded the prototypical Ran Blake Plays Solo Piano (ESP) in 1965. The recording showed a clear refinement of Blake’s style of reinventing popular standards by incorporating his other influences from Film Noir, gospel, his favorite pianist Thelonious Monk, and composers like Stravinsky, Prokofiev, and Messaien. His reputation as the major Third Stream pianist, and later an educator, soon followed, as he could improvise just as easily on a jazz chord progression as a twelve-tone row.
From 1965 on, Blake worked primarily as a solo pianist on more than 30 albums. Although most of the music was primarily informed by his Film Noir perspective, many of his most acclaimed recordings are tributes to artists like Monk, Sarah Vaughn, Horace Silver, George Gershwin, and Duke Ellington. These tributes merged with his teaching career by inspiring an annual summer course he still teaches at NEC, thoroughly exploring the music of a single artist. He has also recorded with Jaki Byard, Anthony Braxton, Steve Lacy, Houston Person, Enrico Rava, Clifford Jordan, Ricky Ford, Christine Correa, David “Knife” Fabris, and others, including a 1989 reunion with Jeanne Lee.Most recently, Blake reinvented himself again for a new millennium of fans. Although solo albums like Film Noir (Arista/Novus) and Duke Dreams (Soul Note) earned five star ratings in publications like Down Beat and the All Music Guide to Jazz, 2001’s Sonic Temples (GM Recordings) is Blake’s best received and most critically acclaimed recording in several years. The recording features Schuller’s two jazz musician sons, Ed (bass) and George (drums), whom Blake has known their entire lives and worked with throughout the last 25 years. This is his first recording in the standard piano trio format, an unprecedented statistic for a jazz pianist of his stature. This collaboration, which Gunther Schuller conceived and produced as a testament to the unheard breadth of Blake’s abilities, showcases Blake performing with a rhythm section and features a repertoire of up tempo standards and group improvisations, as well as trademark Blake originals.
2012 marked Blake’s fifty years as a professional recording artist, making him one of most resilient artists in jazz history. In the tradition of two of his idols, Ellington and Monk, Ran Blake has incorporated and synthesized several otherwise divergent styles and influences into a single innovative and cohesive style all his own, ranking him among the geniuses of the genre. The addition of his innovative aural based teaching approach, and the nearly thirty years he has spent influencing future generations of musicians, makes his contributions to the long tradition of jazz even more impressive.
Fifty years after his innovative duo release with Jeanne Lee, The Newest Sound Around (RCA-Victor, 1961), Ran continues to evolve his noir language on the piano and remains as active as ever with full-time teaching, recordings, touring, and writing a new book, “Storyboarding Noir.”
A recent Downbeat review said, “Ran Blake is so hip it hurts … a pianist who can make you laugh at his dry humor one second and wring a tear the next.” His music still sounds fresh and unmistakably unique.
In 2012, Ran performed in Portugal with vocalist Sara Serpa, in France with Ricky Ford’s Orchestra at the Toucy International Jazz Festival, and at the Qubec Jazz Festival where he performed solo with Hitchcock’s I Confess (1953).
More about Ran Blake at www.ranblake.com
JEANNE LEE (January 29, 1939 – October 25, 2000) was born in New York City. Her father S. Alonzo Lee was a concert and church singer whose work influenced her at an early age. She was educated at the Walden School (a private school), and subsequently at Bard College, where she studied child psychology, literature and dance. During her time at Bard she created choreography for pieces by various classical and jazz composers, ranging from Johann Sebastian Bach to Arnold Schoenberg. In 1961 she graduated from Bard College with a B.A. degree. That year she performed as a duo at the Apollo Theater's Amateur Night contest with pianist Ran Blake, a fellow Bard alumnus, and after winning made her first record, The Newest Sound Around. The album gained considerable popularity in Europe, where Lee and Blake toured in 1963, but went unnoticed in the US. At this point, Lee's major influence was Abbey Lincoln.
During the mid-1960s Lee was exploring sound poetry, happenings, Fluxus-influenced art, and other multidisciplinary approaches to art. She was briefly married to sound poet David Hazelton, and composed music for the sound poetry by poets such as Dick Higgins and Alison Knowles, becoming active in the California art scene of the time. In the late 1960s she returned to the jazz scene and started performing and recording, quickly establishing herself as one of the most distinctively independent and creative artists in the field. Already a few years after her return she had a major role in Carla Bley's magnum opus, Escalator over the Hill (1971), and recorded albums with eminent musicians including Archie Shepp and Marion Brown. In 1967, while in Europe, Lee began a long association with vibraphonist and composer Gunter Hampel, whom she eventually married. They had a son, Ruomi Lee-Hampel, and a daughter, Cavana Lee-Hampel.
In 1976 she represented the African-American spiritual musical tradition in John Cage's Apartment House 1776, which was composed for the U.S. Bicentennial. The experience inspired Lee to devote more attention to her composing, and create extended works. The immediate result was Prayer for Our Time, a jazz oratorio.
Lee continued to perform and make recordings until her death in 2000, recording for labels such as Birth, BYG Actuel, JCOA, ECM, Black Saint/Soul Note, OWL and Horo. She sang on a large number of albums by Gunter Hampel. In her late years, she ran the Jeanne Lee Ensemble, which performed a fusion of poetry, music and dance, and collaborated and toured with pianist Mal Waldron.
Lee was also active as educator. She received a MA in Education from New York University in 1972 and taught at various institutions both in the US and in Europe. She published a number of short features on music for Amsterdam News and various educational writings, including a textbook on the history of jazz music for grades four through seven.
Jeanne Lee and Ran Blake, “A Night in Tunisia”
The Newest Sound Around was Jeanne Lee and Ran Blake’s first duo album, released on RCA Victor in 1962 — and if there’s a hint of a boast in that title, it was fully warranted, then as now.
Lee, a vocalist with a deep, smoky tone and an exploratory ken, died of cancer in 2000, at 61; Blake, a pianist who brings rational sense to the pursuit of shadow intrigue, is still productive at 83. The two artists, who met at Bard College, released a scant amount of subsequent material: one live recording from the mid-‘60s, and a studio effort from 1989.
So it’s worth making some noise about a fantastic new archival release, The Newest Sound You Never Heard. Recorded in 1966 and ’67 at the studios of VRT, a Belgian radio and television station, it’s releasing Friday on A-Side Records, in partnership with the Ran Blake Foundation and the New England Conservatory, where Blake has taught for more than 50 years.
The album, containing almost two hours of previously unissued music, perfectly captures the rare intuitive bond between these artists. Along with jazz standards by Thelonious Monk and others, it includes popular songs of the day, like Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” and The Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night.” Among the highlights is this magnificent version of “A Night in Tunisia,” which has its premiere here.
Blake has continued his tradition of transcendent duo performance with vocalists, including Sara Serpa and Dominique Eade, who observes in the album liner notes: “Hearing these recordings after knowing their previous work so well creates a sensation similar to that of dreaming you have found an extra room in your house.”
But there remains a special, unsurpassable chemistry between Blake and Lee, as these historic recordings attest. That quality will suggest both a presence and an absence when Blake performs a solo concert this Sunday at the New England Conservatory, as a tribute to Lee, before what would have been her 80th birthday.
Greek Review Jan 22, 2019