John Blake Jr., Versatile Jazz Violinist, Dies at 67
John Blake Jr., a jazz violinist who combined strong classical technique with the expressive power of African-American spirituals, folk music and blues, died on Friday in Philadelphia. He was 67.
The cause was complications of multiple myeloma, said Charlotte Blake Alston, his sister.
Mr. Blake was highly regarded for the energy and clarity of his playing, and for carving out a space for the violin in the realms of post-bop and jazz-funk.
Early in his career he worked with the avant-garde saxophonist Archie Shepp, appearing on his albums “The Cry of My People” and “Attica Blues.” He came to greater prominence in bands led by the saxophonist Grover Washington Jr. and the pianist McCoy Tyner. Both later appeared on Mr. Blake’s own albums; he released five on the Gramavision label, starting with “Maiden Dance” in 1984.
Reviewing him that year in The New York Times, Jon Pareles noted that “where some jazz violin solos could easily be played as horn lines, Mr. Blake deploys violinistic slides, tremolos and doublestops not as special effects, but as flexible, vocalistic shadings.”
John Edward Blake Jr. was born in Philadelphia on July 3, 1947, and began his training on violin at 9. He studied music at West Virginia University, after which did postgraduate work in Montreux, Switzerland, focusing partly on traditional East Indian music.
In addition to Ms. Alston, his sister, Mr. Blake, who lived in Philadelphia, is survived by his wife of 38 years, Barbara Irene Blake; a son, the drummer Johnathan Blake; two daughters, Beverly Woodson and Jennifer Watson; another sister, Vivian Blake Carson; two brothers, Alan and Elliot; and six grandchildren.
Mr. Blake taught at several music conservatories and mentored many musicians outside the classroom, including the prominent jazz violinist Regina Carter; he produced her 2010 album “Reverse Thread” (E1 Music).
Mr. Blake’s most recent release, also in 2010, was “Motherless Child” (ARC Music), an album of hymns and spirituals arranged for his quartet and the Howard University vocal jazz ensemble Afro Blue. Among its tracks is an instrumental version of the traditional spiritual “City Called Heaven,” with a stark, commanding prelude on solo violin.
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