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Kenny Blake

Soul Jazz Master
Jazz saxophonist and composer Kenny Blake earned critical acclaim and reached the top of the jazz charts with his four releases on Heads Up Records. His sound is “soul hybrid” a combination of traditional jazz with modern rhythm and blues. Kenny Blake's R&B-tinged solos delight fans around the world. Kenny has performed throughout the United State, Europe, and South Africa as a solo artist and sideman. In the mid-80's Blake toured with the MCA pop-jazz recording artists Cabo Frio and performed his compositions on their 1987 self-titled release. With airplay on smooth jazz and quiet storm radio stations Blake’s 1991 solo release “Interior Design” climbed to number 15 on the Billboard Top Contemporary Jazz Albums chart. He again reached the jazz charts at number 20 with the album “Rumor Has It” in 1992. Blake has released five solo CDs. Along with Joe McBride, Gerald Veasley Blake performs as member of the Heads Up Super Band and appeared on their 1998 release.  As a session man Blake has recorded with Pieces of a Dream, Joe McBride, Gerald Veasley, Darryl Alexander, Tommy Price, Bob Thompson, Chizmo Charles, Rodney McCoy, Donny Iris, Billy Price, Pure Gold, and John Harrison III, and others. He has appeared at many jazz festivals including the annual Berks Jazz Festival, the Jazz on the Rocks festival in Cape Town, South Africa, the 2006 Cape Town International Jazz Festival, and at festivals in Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Rehobeth Beach, Oregon, and Cape May. Kenny works with an array of top musicians and performing in duos, trios, and quartets.

"Not since George Benson has a jazz artist emerged from Pittsburgh onto the national scene with the gale force of saxophonist Kenny Blake" -Jazziz magazine critic Jonathan Widran.

Country Kid Becomes a New York Sax Player

Kenny Blake grew up as a country kid in Murrysville, Pa east of Pittsburgh.  There was always music around in his family household as his mother was a good pianist. Blake began his musical journey at age ten learning the clarinet at Monroeville Elementary School.  He switched to saxophone at 12. The following year he began private lessons with saxophonist Steve Grossman, who turned him onto the music of Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Cannonball Aderly.  Grossman, a hard bopper, went on to record with Miles Davis, Elvin Jones, McCoy Tyner and others.  

Blake spent his high school years at Philips Academy, a prep school in Andover, Mass.  There he formed his first band.  Moving to New York City he studied pre-law at Columbia University.  But he was drawn to the jazz scene in Greenwich Village where he listened to the music of Thad Jones and Mel Lewis.  Blake played with the 12 piece Soul Syndicate band and played for a short time with Sha Na Na.  A few science credits short of his degree he dropped out of Columbia more interested in traveling and playing music.  In 1973 he answered a Village Voice ad for a saxophone player and toured with a band playing jazz in seedy clubs and hotels.

Pittsburgh Jazz Scene  

Blake returned to Pittsburgh in 1974 and to played in a series of jazz and R&B ensembles with many of the city’s best musicians such as Roger Humprehies and Eric Kloss.

One of the most popular bands that Blake played in was the jazz fusion band King Solomon. In the glory days of Weather Report, Return to Forever, and Herbie Handcock Pittsburgh jazz fusion fans flocked to hear King Solomon at the Decade in Oakland, the Boardwalk in the South Hills, Morry’s in the Beaver Valley, the Encore, and other area clubs. King Solomon was comprised of a group of very talented musicians. Keyboard player Jerry Melega was a veteran of the bands of Mel Torme, Glen Miller, Tommy Dorsey and Eddie Fisher. Drummer H.B. Bennett went on to record with Bobby McFerrin.  Bassist Skinny Bishop later toured with Bobby Vinton and Gino Vanelli. Guitarist Danny Stag went on to become a founding member of Kingdom Come and toured the world.  The King Solomon band backed jazzy vocalist Debby Asbury. Playing with great precision and feel King Solomon performed the music of Weather Report, Chic Corea, Steely Dan, Herbie Hancock and other fusion artists. 

After King Solomon broke up Blake teamed with sax player Robbie Klein and Leo Cook to form the R&B band Kid Smoker.  Blake formed the Kenny Blake Trio with veteran drummer Roger Humphries and leyboard player Keigth Sebler.  They performed together from 1984 through 1985 appearing at the Balcony in Shadyside, Hemingways in Oakland and other clubs.

First CD Release

Blake released his first solo CD "Love, I Know Your Name" on Green Dolphin Records in June of 1985. He recorded it a Jeree Studio in New Brighton. The eight track album featured Blake on tenor and alto sax playing his original songs"Banana Jam" and "Route 22". He was backed by Max Leake on synthesizer, Don DePaolis on piano, Roger Humphries on drums, and bassist Ron Bartol.

"Over the past few years, sax man Kenny Blake has been one of the most durable and visible jazz players in the Pittsburgh area.  This album shows the reason for it: The man can play."- Bob Karlovits -Pittsburgh Press

Cabo Frio

In late 1986 local promoter Mike Hurzon told Blake that Cabo Frio, an MCA Records a contemporary fusion jazz act from Syracuse, was looking for a sax player.  “Right On the Money” their second album had reached number 11 on the Billboard Top Jazz Album chart in 1986.  Their original sax play and composer Terrance Bruce was leaving the band.  Blake went to see them perform at Seven Springs.  Backstage he played them a recording of his song "Tiger Lily" and he was hired.  He joined them to record their third MCA album in December of 1986.  They recorded two of Blake's original songs "Banana Jam" and "Tiger Lily".  They also record the theme song for the new “Leave It to Beaver” television show.  The album was recorded at Sound Heights Studio in Brooklyn produced by Peter Drake and Ricky Schultz. It was released in 1987.  Blake toured with Cabo Frio from 1987 through 1989.

After Cabo Frio Blake worked with West Virginia based pianist Bob Thompson, who had been the pianist for the syndicated radio show "Mountain Stage". Blake performed with Thompson and appeared on his 1992 release "Love Dance" along with bassit Dwayne Dolphin and drummer Greg Humphries.  

Heads Up Record Deal

In 1990 Blake recorded a demo with keyboardist Keith Stebler for a New York record label. Pittsburgh record promoter Mike Hurzon played the recording for David Love the president of the new independent jazz label Heads Up Records.  Love liked what he heard and signed Blake to a three album deal with his label. Heads Up was founded by Love in 1990 in Seattle.  Love, a trumpet player, founded the label to release the album   "The Energy of the Chance" that he produced and played on for saxophonist and NEA Jazz Master David Liebman.  During 1990 Love signed several artists including Blake and released recordings by new age jazz violinist Debbie Spring 1990, Harpist Carlos Guedes, and the Latin dance band Bochinche.  Blake was the second jazz artist signed to the Head Ups Roster.

Interior Designs Hits the Jazz Charts

In September 1990 Blake recorded at Audiomation studio on Pittsburgh's Northside working with Dave Love as producer and Dean Becker as engineer. Blake was backed by guitarist Tony Janflone Jr, world class bassist Ron Fudoli, Keith Stebler on keyboards, Steve Trettel on drums and Peter Morely on vocals. Max Leake and future Head Ups artists Joe McBride also contributed keyboards on several cuts. The album titled “Interior Designs” was released on Heads Up in 1991. 

In early 1991 Heads Up signed a European licensing agreement with Germany's Common Target Entertainment. "Interior Design" was the first release to be distributed in Europe by Heads Up. With airplay and sales in the U.S. Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Europe Blake's first solo release reached number 15 on Billboard's Contemporary Jazz Chart.

"Interior Design showed the tenorist/altoist to be a solid, captivating soul-jazz improviser who effectively combines the immediacy and accessibility of R&B, funk and pop with the freedom, spontaneity and imagination of jazz.  Blake has an earthy, down-home appeal that serves him well on both originals and surprising Latin-influenced interpretations of Paul Desmond's "Take Five" and Earle Hagen's "Harlem Nocturne."...overall, Design paints an impressive picture of Blake." -Alex Henderson All Music Guide

Rumor Has It - Since You Asked

Dave Love took Blake back into the Audiomation studio in December of 1991 to produce for his next release. Playing on the sessions were Tony Janflone, Jr. on guitars, Bob Thompson on piano and organ, David Walters on piano and synthesizer, Joe Munroe and Max Leake on synthesizers, bassist John Hall, drummer Steve Trettle, George Jones on percussion and vocalists Peter Morley, David Moore, Debe White and, Janice Clark.  Heads Up released Blake's third solo album in February 1992 with launch at the Rosebud in Pittsburgh.  It climbed to number 20 on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Chart. It sold about 15,000 copies worldwide.  His biggest market was Hong Kong.

Blake released his CD "Since You Asked" produced by Dave Love on Heads Up in 1993.  It featured  Sonny Barbato on piano, Norbert Hogel Jr. on bass, Greg Humphries on drums, and vocalist Peter Morley.  Alex Henderson of the All Music Guide recommends the album as one of Blake's best.  "Melodic, easy-to-absorb instrumentals like "Large and in Charge," "One to Another," and "A Kiss" go for immediacy and will appeal to those who admire soul-jazz players like Grover Washington, Jr., Stanley Turrentine, and David Sanborn"

An Intimate Affair

Heads Up brought in a new producer for Blake’s third Heads Up release “An Intimate Affair” in 1996. Keyboardist Erik Huber produced the recording and wrote 8 of the 11 tracks. Heads Up artist Joe McBride performed as a guest pianist. The album was launched on October 23, 1996 with a release party sponsored by WJJJ-FM at Heaven in downtown Pittsburgh. The cut "Sunday Serenade” was heard on smooth jazz and quiet storm R&B stations in 1997. All Music Guides rates is as a top pick calling it “a seamless hybrid of soul and tradition”.

Heads Up Super Band

In the summer of 1997 Kenny Blake teamed with Heads Up artists Joe McBride and Gerald Veasley to form the Heads Up Super Band.  Bassist Veasely had been a side man with Weather Report co-founder Joe Zawinul and Grove Washington Jr. before he became of solo artist at Heads Up.  Keyboard player Joe McBride had recorded on Blake’s “Interior Design” CD before he hit the Billboard jazz charts with his “Double Take” and “Gift For Tomorrow” solo releases. Both Blake and McBride appeared on Veasley’s 1997 release “Soul Control”. Each of the members contributed original songs to the Super Band. They played live together in concert in Europe during 1997 and appeared in the U.S at the Capital Jazz Festival, Syracuse Jazz Festival, the Carolina Music Fest the Berks Jazz Festival, and Clifford Brown Jazz Festival.  Their appearance at the Berks Jazz Festival with drummer Keith Carlock (who had played with Steely Dan and Sting) was recorded and released by Heads Up in 1998 as “Heads Up Super Band Live at the Berks Jazz Festival”. To promote the release they went on a five city tour appearing in Cleveland, Akron, Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. The band toured during 1999 and appeared at a jazz festival in Cape Town South Africa in 2000.

"In terms of showcasing the varied strengths of each performer and their adaptability to an ensemble setting, the Heads Up Super Band's Live at the Berks Jazz Fest at Albright College in Reading, PA is a triumph." -Jonathan Widran All Music Guide

Sideman

With the chart successes of Kenny Blake, Joe McBride, and Gerald Veasely Heads Up became a prominent jazz label. Spiro Grya signed joined the roster in 2001 and the Yellow Jackets came on board in 2003.  The label merged with Telarc in 2000 and became part of the Concord Music Group in 2005.  With big major selling jazz artists on the label Heads Ups did not renew Blake's contract.  Blake became a recording session player. He recorded with Chizmo Charles on his 1998 release "Up All Night."  In 2001 Kenny recorded with Pieces of a Dream on their Heads Up release "Acquainted with the Night".  He appeared on Darryl Alexander's 2004 release "Diamond in the Sky" and his 2008 release "This Way".  

Blake continues to perform in Pittsburgh with his own trio and quartets.  He also tours with Joe McBride and other artists.


Kenny Blake on the BET Network
Cabo Frio
Interior Design
Heads Up Super Band
Pieces of a Dream