Nearly everyone would agree that music is one of the most significant and enduring art forms ever created by mankind, though most people still view it primarily as entertainment. An astute few seem capable of looking beyond music's obvious entertainment value, and among these is bassist Russel Blake. He views music as both a tool for healing the spirit, and as a means of removing the cultural barriers which divide us, by serving as mankind's universal language. Blake strives to convey this message not only through his music, but also through his words and actions. To Russel Blake, being a musician is a gift which carries with it a serious obligation.
During the 50s, Blake's parents moved from Panama to Brooklyn, New York, where he was born on May 27th, 1961. On his twelfth birthday Blake received an electric bass as a gift from his father. He was then compelled by his father to practice for four hours every day, just as his older brother (noted bassist Alex Blake) had been. "It was something that I did not enjoy at first. This was [my father's] vision, not mine. So at first I was resistant. For the first three months that I began studying the instrument, it was not only to teach me how to play the bass fundamentally, but to teach me to be a first-sight reader. My father saw to it that I was prepared, as a professional."
At twelve years old, and with just three months experience playing bass, Russel Blake played his first professional gig. "There was a fifteen piece Latin band that needed a bass player. So they called my father to see if [my brother Alex] was available. My father said 'No' but that he had another son who played bass. My father brought me to the gig and they thought my father was going to play, because he was carrying the amplifier and the bass. When they found out that I was going to play, they were very resistant. They were adamant and indignant about the fact that they were grown men and professionals—they could not share the stage with a child! My father had to argue on my behalf. This was at the eleventh hour, so they had no other choice. They counted it off and I read everything first-sight. At the end of the evening, instead of fourteen enemies, I had fourteen friends. “When preparation meets opportunity, success is achieved." explain this statement
Russel Blake's desire to move beyond the traditional boundaries of music is a mindset gained during his childhood. Blake has long admired musicians such as John Coltrane, Jimi Hendrix, Art Tatum, and Sonny Rollins. "Those individuals transcended the capabilities and expectations of their instruments. So that was my goal, to emulate those individuals who took their artistry and transcended the expectations of it." Interestingly, Russel Blake would later spend five years as exclusive bassist for one of his idols, Sonny Rollins, with whom Blake toured and recorded two albums. "The beauty of working with individuals like that, is that you quite often learn as much from them off stage as you do on stage, because you have the opportunity to interact with them on a spiritual level, on a mental level, [and] on an emotional level. It forms you, makes you more whole as a human being."
The intensive practice and study regimen Blake began as a child continued into adulthood, enabling him to explore and develop new methods for playing his instrument. "I had to start looking at myself more as a musician, and not just an individual who is playing a supportive instrument in a band. I wanted to transcend that. In my studies, when I began playing the melodies of songs I missed hearing the bass. And when I began playing the bass I'd miss hearing the melody. So I decided to start experimenting." Blake created and now teaches the novel method of playing the four string electric bass which resulted from that experimentation. His Melodious-Chordal Technique emphasizes a unique blend of harmony, rhythm, and melody, all played simultaneously.
"The first thing I had to overcome was the mental block that says that a four string electric bass isn't capable of performing works by Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Mozart, Coltrane, or ragtime music from Scott Joplin—because of expectations. When people speak of soloists, they don't think of the four string electric bass. They conventionally think of a violinist, a pianist, or a guitarist." Blake has added more than 400 songs to his repertoire as a four string bass soloist. His remarkable talent is showcased in a four-CD series entitled Ten Fingers & Four Strings Solo Series (Man of Psalms Records, 2008).
Blake has served as a U.S. State Department Goodwill Ambassador in Africa and has performed live before audiences in more than 60 countries. His extensive touring and interaction with audiences world-wide has convinced him that music can breach the barriers often presented by language, race, religion, and cultural tradition. "The beauty about being a musician is that music is the universal language. Whether it was Vietnam or the high mountains of Europe, they didn't speak a word of English and I didn't speak a word of their indigenous language. Music was the language that brought us together. It was the force that brought down the wall of ignorance, the wall of non-communication, the wall of distance. Once you put a smile on their face or a tear on their cheek, once you've touched their heart, you are communicating. After the concert, folks come up and struggle to speak English, and you struggle to speak their language. But even if only two or three words are exchanged, it's understood. The most important thing is that you were able to shake hands, you were able to embrace, and you were able to start to form a friendship that will continue."
Equally important to Russel Blake is the contention that music can provide healing to those with spirits in need of consolation. "If people are coming to a concert, then they're coming not only to be entertained, they are coming to be healed, coming to laugh, cry, to feel hope again. [Music] takes their mind off of their problems. We never know what an individual is going through in an audience that comes to hear us perform. There have been people who have come to a concert having suicidal thoughts. And as a result of that concert, they left feeling entirely different. The importance of music cannot be overestimated."
During a series of concerts at Ironwood State Prison, in Blythe, California, Blake performed for an audience of 5000 hardened criminals that included murderers, rapists, and members of opposing race-based prison gangs. "These men are sentenced to 400 years, 500 years, life." As he took the stage for the first of those concerts, the powerfully-built Blake presented an imposing figure, and yet he suffered the jeers, catcalls, and derision one would expect from such an audience. "I just stood there and looked at them as I would a group of students who are being unruly. When they realized that I wasn't being intimidated by them, they sat down and I began to perform." Because Blake's repertoire includes music from numerous genres, his performance appealed to nearly everyone present. "After the first concert, word spread [and] the inmates couldn't wait to come and hear. The interesting thing I found, was that they were all brought to the same space by virtue of the power of music, and as a result of music creating that ambiance by which we could sit together in peace. It was a very dynamic experience.
"At the end of the concert, [prisoners] came to me and thanked me for coming to perform. Some of these men were crying because they said nobody would come there to perform for them. People that are [invited] to perform are generally intimidated. They don't want to go there. I welcomed the invitation, because what more challenging audience can one have than a group of inmates—people who are incarcerated and have nothing to lose? So there is a viable audience for a musician who is willing to be challenged in their artistry by performing before inmates. Our gift is not ours to keep for a selected group of audiences. Our gift is given freely by the Creator, that we must share with all who would listen, in order for their healing to take place.
"Most recently I did a solo performance for Atlanta Children's Hospital, and I performed for terminally ill children. These children were, as you might imagine, very sad. They were hooked up to IVs and machines, and this was their life 24 hours a day. [It] was a grave responsibility to not only overlook their condition and their circumstances, but to find the strength within myself to bring some sunshine to them. These were children, so they were not aware of pieces by Duke Ellington, or pieces by Jobim, Beethoven, etc. But by performing these pieces, it widened their eyes, it brightened their smiles. They were so happy, and that was very clear [evidence] of how music can bring healing into someone's life. I know, for that moment in time, I was able to touch their lives; I hope as effectively as they touched mine.
"The importance of music cannot be overestimated. The importance of wisdom, knowledge, and understanding to make that music more substantive, can not be overestimated. We should allow ourselves to become interested in geology, and interested in philosophy, to become interested in so many other avenues of knowledge that are available to us. By doing so, it changes our perceptions. And once your perception is changed, you then apply that not only to yourself as a human being, but you apply it to your craft. And you begin to understand your place in the scheme of things, and how important it is to be a musician."
NEW BOOK ~~> Russel also will have book of Inspirational Writings/Poetry coming out in September titled "Proverbs 31: The Virtuous Black Woman."
To visit Russel Blake's website CLICK HERE
Born and raised in Gary, Indiana, Robert Sells aka "AnointedPoet" is a graduate of West Side High School. He received his Bachelors Degree in Accounting from Indiana University-Northwest. He has been writing since age 11. He enjoys writing poetry, reading, singing with his churchs’ praise team and spending time with his wife, Marlas and daughter, from a previous marriage. He is a member of Embassies of Christ Kingdom Ministries in Gary, Indiana. He and his wife reside in Merrillville, Indiana. WORDS OF INSPIRATION: A Collection of Poems for the One You Love is his first book.
Robert is a Christian author with a strong psalmist anointing on his life. His second book, “Words of Inspiration: Speak Healing” was released on April 28, 2008. Robert's first book, “Words of Inspiration: A Collection of Poems for the One You Love” was selected as the WeAreFearless Online Book Club's "Pick of the Month for July 2007. Consistently receiving favorable reviews, his work has been featured in several magazines, including the January – March issues of Christian Voice Magazine, a cover story on the January 2008 issue of Global Influence Magazine, as well as a host of others. His Christian love poem "Empty" is currently featured on the newly-released CD, "Poetry Over Music Volume II: Different Shades of Love". He has also been featured on “Poetry Over Music Volume III: Rhythm & Poetry” with his poem “Here and Now”. Sought after by many groups to create personal poems, he makes a regular appearance on a gospel showcase broadcast live on WYCA 102.3FM. Robert has been interviewed on many radio programs.
Robert currently serves as the Poetry Editor for Divine Inspirations Magazine, where he is also a contributing writer. He has just released a maxi-single which has 3 tracks from the highly-anticipated debut CD release, “The Heart of a Man”. He has ministered the Word of God at several Women's conferences and was a featured author on a panel discussion for Go' on Girl Book Club's 2007 National Conference in Cleveland, OH and the WAGFEST National Author’s Conference in Seattle, WA and Cincinnati, OH. He has recently been featured on an episode of “The John Lanier Show”, a syndicated Christian talk show. Following the assignment the Lord placed on his life, he is currently hard at work on the third book in the "Words of Inspiration" series entitled “Words of Inspiration: Through the Word of God”, as well as a short story novel he is co-writing with his beautiful wife, a spoken word CD entitled “The Heart of a Man” set to be released by December 2008, and a novel to be released in 2009.
Rudy Smith is a Trinidadian steelpan player from Port of Spain. Noted for his performances with many highly regarded jazz artist, Rudy has attracted attention as one of the brightest steelpan soloist in jazz. Mr. Smith has recorded and performed with artist such as George Cables, Tommy Flanagan, Horace Parlan, Bernie Senesky, Andrew Cyrille. Frank Morgan, Ed Thigpen, David Williams, Dom Um Ramao, Red Mitchell, Mats Winding, Belgium TV Big Band, Don Thompson and many others...
Rudy Smith perfected his unique style by studying jazz luminaries: Milt Jackson, Bobby Hutcherson, Oscar Peterson and John Coltrane. Mr. Smith has toured internationally and has performed at some of the major clubs and jazz festivals in the USA, Canada, Europe and the Caribbean.
The Metro Word, Toronto
The hollow tones of a Steelpan might seem a major disadvantage for the warm note-bending playing required in jazz soloing, but with a delicate style of improvisation and careful attention to each song's structure, Smith has defied convention and emerged as a sought-after player.
I have been a secret fan of Rudy´s for many years - from the moment i first heard him, I've been raving about his incredible musicianship, his impeccable taste and soulful phrasing. He and Toots Thielemans, who both make you forget the insurmountable technical difficulties of their respective instruments, belong in my personal gallery of heroes with Louis, Duke, Bird, Stuff, Stan, Dizzy and a few that you probably never heard of.
I just think it´s marvelous album and Rudy is one of a kind. I have never heard a steel-drum player like him before in my life! I am very impressed with his compositions.
Mark Miller, The Globe and Mail, Toronto
It would be all too easy to make a fuss about the apparent novelty of the steel drum as a jazz instrument. The sound of the pan, after all, is the sound of calypso, not of bebop- or blues-note, at least, until Rudy Smith, a Trinidadian musician traveling out of Copenhagen, strikes the first notes of a hip tune like John Coltrane´s "Some Other Blues". Damned if it isn´t perfectly natural.
Krister Malm, Ph. D.,
Musicologist, Sweden Double alto pan player Rudy Smith has started a new phase in the story of pan. And not only in the story of the pan but in the story of Afro-American music. Rudy Smith has married the most important Afro-Caribbean invention in the field of musical instruments, the steel pan, to the most important Afro-American musical tradition, the jazz. And more than that. He has developed a solo style of the steel pan which has not been heard before. His technique is dazzling. But it is not a question of empty virtuosity. Rudy Smith´s playing is marked by the same astonishing inventiveness that has created the steel pan.
Thorbjoern Sjoegren, Berlingske Tidende, Denmark
It may perhaps be rather natural (and easy) to consider the use of steel-drums in jazz as something of curiosity, but the way in which Rudy Smith handles his two 50 cm-wide metal things it is not difficult for him to convince us of thier legitimate use in jazz.
Manuel Dunkel, was born on February 11, 1971 in the city of Vantaa, Finland and is recognized as one of the strongest voices on the Finnish jazz scene today. His international class musicianship and passionate playing has been praised in Finland since early -90`s. Dunkel´s playing is characterized by rich and strong saxophone sound, well-developed melodic lines and intense swing. Dunkel got heavily into jazz in his teens, absorbing and practicing jazz language from the records. He was fascinated especially by saxophonist John Coltrane, who became one of Dunkel´s main influence. Dunkel studied first at the Oulunkylä Pop & Jazz Conservatory, and then entered the Sibelius-Academy Jazz Program, where he earned his Master´s degree in 2004.
In the early 90´s Dunkel build his reputation as an adaptable and expressive musician in various musical settings from funk to straight-ahead jazz. Since 1994 he has been a member of the UMO Jazz Orchestra (the leading professional big band in Finland), which has given Dunkel invaluable experience not only of the group playing, but also as a soloist. Dunkel`s skills and intense playing was soon noted by public and critics, and as a result he received the Pekka Pöyry- saxophone award 1996 and was voted as" The Best Tenor Saxophonist " in Jazz Rytmit- magazine 1999-2001.
After developing his musicianship as a side-man, Dunkel started to lead his quartet in 1996. The quartet made two well received CD`s, toured Finland and played in EBU-concert at the April Jazz International Jazz Festival in Finland 1997. 2001 he toured Finland and Sweden with his Scandinavian band TONIC, featuring Norwegian keyboardist Christian Wallumrød and Swedish trumpeter Anders Bergcrantz. In the early 2000`s Dunkel played intensively with Jukka Perko & Hurmio Orchestra - a Finnish band which recorded successful CD for the Blue-Note and toured Far-East (Australia, China, Singapore, South-Korea and Thailand). Dunkel has often performed also in Mid-Europe (Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, and Switzerland) since 1998 with Finnish band Platypus Ensemble. Dunkel has worked with internationally renewed jazz musicians such as Rick Margitza, Eric Truffaz and Kenny Wheeler.
Occasionally Dunkel is also in demand as a featured soloist, such as a weeklong gig with a Japanese trio in Tokyo 2004 and a concert with Swiss guitarist Harald Haerter`s group in Finland 2005. 2000 he played as a soloist with the Estonian Dream Big Band.
2005 Dunkel formed a new quartet (with pianist Giorgos Kontrafouris, bassist Ville Huolman and drummer Jussi Lehtonen). 2006 the quartet recorded CD "Darn That Dream" for American record-label KSJAZZ
To visit Manuel Dunkel's website CLICK HERE
Clay Corley Sr.
My name is Clayton E. Corley, Sr. aka Big Trigger host and producer of an award winning internet program!