Jazz Between Generations
Former ��U student-turned acclaimed drummer gives back �RITTEN �Y �ESSI�A �ANGER ��OTO�RA��Y �Y �IMMY KAT�
�rowing up in Philadelphia with a famous jazz violinist father , Johnathan Blake understood at ayoung age how music can bring joy to others . He traveled with his father onhis worldwide tours , and the two played violin together on aMister Rogers ’ Neighborhood episode when Blake was 6years old .
“ I didn ’ treally know at first if I wanted to go into music , but Ijust loved that experience about how it made me feel , and the emotions that are brought out ofother people ,” Blake says . “ So , Isaid well , if Ican do that either doing music or something else , that ’ swhat Iwant to do . I want to be joy and happiness to people .” Playing jazz also appealed to him because jazz artists express themselves freely , he says , taking something another person wrote and bringing their own twists to it without fear .
Opting to be aprofessional jazz musician turned out tobeagood choice . Now aPaterson resident , Blake , 45 , isrenowned inhis own right . In 2006 , the title track of his debut album , The Eleventh Hour , won him the ASCAP Young Jazz Composers Award . More recently , he played drums on Data Lords , winner of the 2021 Grammy award for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album . And he has inspired others with his passion , creativity and work ethic .
LEARNING FROM THE MASTERS
After Blake was accepted into William Paterson University ’ s highlyrespected Jazz Studies Program in 1��5 , his raw talent did not go unnoticed . He says he learned what it takes to make it far in the music industry from talented teachers : multi-instrumentalist Steve Wilson , drummers John Riley and Horace Arnold , pianist Noreen Grey Lienhard and bassist Rufus Reid .
Blake says he learned the fundamentals of playing the drums from Arnold , while Riley focused on technique , harmony and playing by sight . Grey Lienhard taught him a lot about theory and harmony , he says , but all his teachers instilled in him the importance of being a consummate professional .
Blake says he ’ s honored the life lessons from Reid — tonot take his raw talent for granted , and to learn as much as he can to become acomplete , well-rounded artist . “ He really instilled in me a work ethic about this career that I wanted to choose , so he was onmeabout not being lazy , just really trying to give everything your all ,” Blake says .
Reid says Blake is one ofhis favorite success stories , which he credits to his former student ’ s tenacity and ability to overcome challenges . “ He wants it , but he also has the ability to become , and has become , world class ,” Reid says .
Blake says that going through periods when he didn ’ t get calls for work was difficult , but when he doubted his career path , he remembered the lessons from his WPU instructors and used the time to work harder , and get better , at his craft .
To give back to the program that helped him , Blake has performed jazz concerts at WPU , introduced musicians at a concert and taught students as a substitute in a jazz master class . “ One of the things Ifind is if I don ’ t pass on what I ’ ve learned , I feel that I ’ m doing those musicians who taught me a disservice , because they were the ones who took the time out of their busy schedules to sit down and talk with me ,” Blake says . “ So who am Inot to do the same thing ?”
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