John Blake CDs
Quest (1992, 1995) /
Epic Ebony Journey
A New Beginning
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Interviews John Blake, Jazz Violinist
I know very little about music though I'm here now listening to
a CD of Charles
Mingus. I suppose the first album of his I
recall is "Black Saint, Sinner Lady" or something like
that. Actually, when I bought this Mingus CD I was trying to buy
one of Roland Kirk but they didn't have any in.
you ever read Mingus' Beneath the Underdog? It
reminded me so much of Henry Miller's trilogy Nexus, Sexus,
Plexus. But that was a long time ago. I never studied
it for its musicality.
I have not read that book on Mingus. I am familiar with and have
played and performed his work and also been featured with the
Mingus Big Band which still performs his music around the world.
My son plays drums with that band and is currently on tour with
them in Malaysia.
There's this story (maybe it was in Amsterdam) that the cops
just tossed his compositions into the street. Have you heard the
tale? I've probably got it ass backwards. The tale I heard was
quite symbolical of the lack of respect for artists and that
music we call "jazz."
Mingus was always controversial and very outspoken about civil
rights and the treatment of Black people in America,
particularly during the sixties. He also was known to have had a
violent temper, at times, even with some of his band members. I
could probably find out more about your story from some of the
veteran musicians who still work in his band, which is run by
his wife Sue Mingus.
Or has jazz really joined the Establishment? Do you think jazz
has a role to play in our cultural wars?
All the music that Blacks have created in America I believe has
a relation to every aspect of Black life. I also believe that
this way of using music happened not long after Africans
hit the shores of America. All the music created on plantations,
work songs, spirituals, and blues are the roots of African
were created by the ancestors as a means of survival. It was a
gift that allowed them to express themselves and communicate
their deep feelings in regards to their everyday lives while
suffering under great hardships. Many of these songs expressed
anger, love, religious feelings and allowed them to communicate
in secret through hidden messages in the lyrics of the
in Africa was used in every aspect of the culture. It was
used to preserve history, and in some cultures it was actually
considered a language, which is why the drum was not allowed to
be used or played in America during slavery.
American history can be traced through the music that was
created. I believe that many musicians still use their music to
communicate all kinds of ideas, thoughts, emotions good or bad
that speak to all kinds of things in our society.
choose to use my art to try and uplift humanity. I want my work
to reflect good. I believe in order for me to see a better world
I must strive to transform myself in a positive way that will
hopefully affect others.
Would you consider yourself a member of the Hip Hop generation?
From your photo, I say you are in your late twenties, early
John: The photo of me is a bit old. I was in my
late 40's when that was taken. I am now 57 and was in high
school and college during the turbulent sixties.
You are a native of Philly?
I assume you have had some classical training, and then opted
for jazz. Is that how it went?
John: I am a native
Philadelphian. I was born in South Philadelphia. I started off
as a classical violinist but later became interested in jazz.
The first jazz violinist I heard was Ray Nance who played in the
Duke Ellington orchestra. I was blown away after hearing him.
This started me on a new journey that I'm still on.
You have recordings? That seems so easy these days. So the
question should be have you got a big recording deal with a big
I have never had a
big record deal. I have been with small labels, which has worked
ok for me. Now because of the internet, many musicians are able
to produce and promote their own CDs without having to go to a
record label. I have chosen to do this. I find it very exciting
A lot of questions are being raised these days about "black
success." How do you define that for yourself? Family together?
I measure my success several ways. First to be able to survive
and make a living as musician is a blessing. I enjoy my work. It
means so much to me to be able make a living at something I
love. I feel honored and rich. Not so much financially but
been able to support my wife and children and maintain my
family. This has always been important to me. My success is not
just measured by my material possessions. The love from my
family and my friendships and relationships with others along
with faith that God truly provides my needs make me very
thankful for all I have.
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I went to amazon.com
to search out your music and found
Epic Ebony Journey. I listened to snatches of the
thirteen pieces. I like your music and ordered the CD. It
is reflective and danceable. That's what I like about Mingus,
and of course however furious he was, there was a bit of humor.
How did this album come about? You have the spiritual, the
gospels, the blues, the contemporary classical feel, the
appalachian fiddle (in "Passion Dance"). If it is not
classic I'm sure it will become one.
You ask some very thought provoking questions. My duo CD
with bassist Avery Sharpe "Epic Ebony Journey” was a
collaborative effort. We are very good friends and have similar
backgrounds in regards music and faith. This CD evolved almost
without us realizing that it reflected so many aspects of
African American history. When Avery and I both looked at the
music we created, we saw a theme that seems to express a
journey. Thus this led to the title. This recording was done
after the CD “A New Beginning.”
A New Beginning. On this album
you have such titles as "Samba Di Bahia" and "Serengetti
Dance." It sounds as if you have been both to Africa and
Brazil, and that these compositions are reflections on those
journeys. I just received an email from my niece Monica telling
me she was on her way to Brazil in search of the Almighty. Are
you in search of a new spirituality?
I have been to Brazil but have not been to Africa. I have been
to both places spiritually. Many times my inspiration doesn't
always reflect where I've been physically. I travel musically
from the interaction in communicating with others and listening
to music from around the world. I enjoy the music from various
cultures and am often influenced by what I hear. My music does
reflect journeys but they are not always physical. Sometimes
creatively I find myself spiritually in places I've never been
before. It's wonderful, and I love to take my audiences with me
to those special places.
I recently found that many consider August Wilson a
"black nationalist." You are of the same generation.
Do you want to make a revolution? Do you think black music can
heal the ails of America? Has that been the project of the black
I desire a spiritual awakening for mankind. There is too
much hate, greed, and selfishness in this world. Man has made
very little progress in this area. My goal in life is to let my
light shine in every way it can. I ask God to lead me this way
during my life on this earth. I want my life to work towards a
better world each and everyday I live. I might not see man
evolve to this higher place in my lifetime, but I want to serve
in some small part in making it happen.
God is shaping me into
who I should be through the gifts and insight He keeps giving
me. It will perhaps take many years, for change to take place in
the hearts of men. The good works and the love we show others
does bring about change.
I’m interested in your creative process. I’ve just been
reading about African American drama, August Wilson,
and black aesthetics. This scholar Mikell Pinkney points out
five "essential elements" or "aesthetic
principles," of which music and spirituality
are included, the others being protest, assertion,
and revolt. When you compose do you use drama as a kind
of analog, for you have tied music to provoking the emotions,
especially to fears of survival? Are their stories you want to
tell by your music?
creative process varies from work to work. Sometimes I hear
music from beginning to end in one shot. Other times I get bits and
pieces of ideas that eventually become a song. Sometimes I am
awakened in the middle of the night with a melody or rhythm. I
never know where or when an idea will come. I know it is a great
feeling when it arrives. Sometimes we as artists feel stagnant
when the creative process seems to be at a stand still. I am
always pleased when a idea comes forth through me. I have
written music for film, dance, poetry and for storytellers.
love the process of being stretched creatively in these other
mediums. It is challenging to compose that way, where you are
given a visual or literary background to work from. My sister
Charlotte Blake Alston (who is a storyteller) and I have
composed and performed works combining storytelling and jazz.
When you speak on spirituality, you remind me of John Coltrane
and his “Love Supreme.” You played awhile with McCoy Tyner?
Could you tell us about some of your influences, musically and
My experience working with Mc Coy Tyner for five years as a
sideman in his band has to be one of the highlights of my
career. Working with him transformed me as a player and a
composer. There was a real connection I made with him that was
spiritual and elevated my playing. He has been a major player in
my growth as an artist. We shared many great moments on and off
the bandstand. There also many wonderful stories he shared with
me about his early years with Trane and his experiences in that
Where do you see jazz today, and its future? Usually, jazz has
been associated with rebel figures (Bird, Miles, and Trane),
outside the arena of respectability. These guys yet were
superior and brought something new to the music. Do we have that
kind of assertion and revolt today in jazz music?
There are still emerging young jazz artist creating wonderful
music. Many of them are not being promoted well. So much of the
public is unaware of their work unfortunately. We who realize
how important this music is, have to find more ways to educate
our young people and the general public through concerts in
small venues in our communities, schools as well as theaters and
What projects are you working on now and when and what can we
expect in the near future from you by way of composing,
recording, and concerts?
My latest project is a performance on the 29th of
April at the Four Seasons Hotel ballroom. I have just finished
composing a new work called “A Celebration of Fiddle Music
from Africa to America.” This work was commissioned by Chamber
Music America. It represents an anthology of violin history from
Africa to the early music developed by African Americans in the
south on plantations. This work is a tribute to my ancestors,
celebrating the rich, deep music that they created in Africa and
The violin was the first instrument Africans played
in America though there were one and two string fiddles found
all over the continent of Africa. I am honored to write this
work to highlight the history and the great music that was
Is Philly a good home base for you and your music? Are there a
lot of musicians about town you jam with? What kind of
intellectual exchanges are taking place between musicians and
others in the arts community?
Philly is still a great place to live and still continues to be
a breeding ground for so many past and present artist. There are
institutions here like The Philadelphia Clef Club ( Lovett
Hines), The Mt Airy Cultural Jazz Society (Tony Williams) The
Settlement Music School, The Kimmel Center Jazz Youth ensemble.
These groups and others are keeping jazz alive through their
Other organizations like Strings For Schools,
Young Audiences, and The Institute For Arts in Education help
keep the arts alive in our schools through educational jazz
performances and workshops for students. I have been honored
to closely work with all these groups. There are great
people in this area who are trying to make a difference.
Have you heard the spiritual “Go in the Wilderness”?
Some say, Nat Turner composed this song; others that it came
from South Carolina. It is in the wilderness, the song argues,
that we will find our liberation. I’d like it very much if
you’d put it on your things-to-do list to compose a piece
“God in the Wilderness” and dedicate it to Nathaniel Turner,
the prophet of Southampton. You think that’s a possibility?
I am not familiar with that spiritual, but would love to hear
it. Anything is possible when the creative process is at work. I
am always looking to be inspired and find new ideas for new
works. Thank you for your creative thoughts and ideas. We’ll
see what happens.
* * *
According to T. W. Higginson,
"Their [the Christian slaves] best marching song, and one which was invaluable to
lift their feet along, as they expressed it, was the following
["Go in the Wilderness"].
There was a kind of spring and lilt to it, quite
indescribable by words." Some say the song was first
composed by Nathaniel Turner, who linked himself to the
wilderness theme by
Go in the Wilderness
Jesus call you. Go in de wilderness,
Go in de wilderness, go in de
Jesus call you. Go in de wilderness
To wait upon de Lord,
Go wait upon de Lord,
Go wait upon de Lord,
Go wait upon de Lord, my God,
He take away de sins of de world.
Jesus a-waitin'. Go in de wilderness,
Go wait upon de Lord,
Go wait upon de Lord,
Go wait upon de Lord, my God,.
All dem chil'en go in de wilderness
To wait upon de Lord.
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* * *
Incognegro: A Memoir of
Exile and Apartheid
B. Wilderson III
Wilderson, a professor,
writer and filmmaker from
presents a gripping account
of his role in the downfall
of South African apartheid
as one of only two black
Americans in the African
National Congress (ANC).
After marrying a South
African law student,
returns with her to South
Africa in the early 1990s,
where he teaches
Johannesburg and Soweto
students, and soon joins the
military wing of the ANC.
portrait of Nelson Mandela
as a petulant elder eager to
accommodate his white
countrymen will jolt readers
who've accepted the
usually accorded him. After
the assassination of
Mandela's rival, South
African Communist Party
leader Chris Hani, Mandela's
regime deems Wilderson's
public questions a threat to
national security; soon,
having lost his stomach for
the cause, he returns to
America. Wilderson has a
distinct, powerful voice and
a strong story that shuffles
between the indignities of
Johannesburg life and his
early years in Minneapolis,
the precocious child of
academics who barely
tolerate his emerging
about love within and across
the color line and cultural
divides are as provocative
as his politics; despite
digressions, this is a
riveting memoir of
apartheid's last days.—Publishers
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Sex at the Margins
Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry
By Laura María Agustín
This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label 'trafficked' does not accurately describe migrants' lives and that the 'rescue industry' serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. "Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality."—Lisa Adkins, University of London
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The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
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Ancient African Nations
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Negro Digest /
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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Only a Pawn in Their Game
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for
George Jackson /
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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of
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