Bassist Alex Blake, born in Panama City, Panama, has a revolutionary playing style and technique distinctly his own. He combines innovative strumming, rapid lyrical notations and percussive slaps on his bass to create a unique and compelling sound. Some have called him “an entire rhythm section”.
Alex Blake’s talent is measured by the plenitude of masters who have called upon him over his more than forty-year career for his inventive and passionate playing. In addition to having played with Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins, Sun Ra, Art Blakey, Freddie Hubbard, McCoy Tyner, Lenny White, Stan Getz, Harry Belafonte, and the Manhattan Transfer, Alex is a long-time member of NEA Jazz Master Randy Weston’s African Rhythms.
In demand for recording, festivals, concerts and clubs both nationally and internationally, Alex leads his own group, The Alex Blake Collective, comprised of notable, eclectic musicians.
Originally from Panama, Alex Blake became a trumpet player as a young boy before switching to the bass at the encouragement of his father. Beginning with the Ampeg “baby bass,” Alex became immersed in the Latin styles of music, playing salsa, bossa nova and other forms, while developing his signature technique of playing the bass.
In his interview with Christopher Porter of the Jazz Times, he fondly described the launch of his professional career: “I started playing professionally when I was 12 years old, the music I was playing was Latin, I was playing with great percussionists like Kako and Patato.”
As a child, he enjoyed the infusion of cultures common in Central America. Acting as a bridge between North and South America, Panama captures a little bit of each culture passing through. It only follows that as one of the building blocks to his character, this environmental influence would later be echoed in his uncanny ability to play every style of music. When he was seven years old, his parents moved to the United States, settling in Brooklyn, his mother was a mathematician, and his father an acclaimed trombone player. Together, they offered him a creative and intellectual foundation that embodied diligence, an unwavering devotion to inventiveness, and excellence.
In his 2012 interview with Jon Liebman, he recalls his early years:
"I left Panama when I was 7 years old, but I still remember it a bit. "When I was coming up, my father played with one of the great musicians of Panama, Victor Boa. I guess he was the equivalent of Duke Ellington in this country. I used to go to rehearsals with my dad. He bought me a toy trombone and I used to play with him. I would go to the rehearsals and sit down with the rest of the guys. They would put out a music stand for me, I’d pick up my toy trombone and play alongside my dad. Those rehearsals marked my first introduction to music. I would sit back and listen to the guys and they would let me get up on stage and sit next to my dad, put some music on a stand for me and I swore I was playing! I thought I was playing along with the big band."
"We came to the United States in 1958, when I was 7 years old, and my dad started me off on trumpet. I really didn’t want to play the trumpet, but that was the instrument he started me off with. His whole thing was that I would learn treble clef. I played trumpet for a couple of years, but it wasn’t an instrument I really was interested in playing. it was the guitar that I really loved, especially while listening to the Beatles and the Stones and the other bands in the early ’60s. I even tried to build a guitar out of pieces of wood I got from a nearby lumberyard, totally destroying my father’s tools in the process! He saw that and he knew that playing guitar was something I wanted to do. One day, though, my father came home with an Ampeg baby bass. I looked at the bass and, not thinking, I said, “Who’s going to play that?” And he looked at me and he said, “Who do you think?”
Alex studied privately with some of the great teachers of stringed instruments, composition, theory, as well as arranging. Reggie Workman and Harry Constant at The New Muse in Brooklyn, Melonie Punter and Akua Dixon at the String Reunion and composer/recording artist Richard Davis all helped embolden Alex's novelty.
He began to collaborate creatively on the inception of some of the more recognized Afro-Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Latino Jazz artists including Mongo Santamaria. Machito (Maria Bauza), and Celia Cruz to name a few. By the time he was sixteen, Alex had reached the epitome of "outside" success by Europe touring and recording with Sun Ra. From there, at the ripe old age of sixteen, Alex had moved on to play and tour internationally with Dizzy Gillespie, which catapulted the demand for his ingenuity on the bass, around the world. The calls poured in from Freddie Hubbard, McCoy Tyner, Pharoah Sanders, and many others who desired his inventive interpretations on the bass.
After becoming one of the major proponents of the fusion movement In the late 70’ with his writing and performances with Lenny White and Billy Cobham, Alex established himself as a drummer's bassist. His range and ability, flow between melodic, and extremely rhythmic playing, enabling the all-star drummers with whom he played, to express themselves illimitably without having to worry about keeping time. Most of the people who work with Alex consider him an entire rhythm section on his own. His playing embodies rhythm guitar, steady drumming, and lyrical bass line work all in the action of two hands. If you count the scat singing that he throws in over some of his solos, you might be inclined to call him the whole band and give him the horn chair as well.
Throughout the years, Alex Blake's recording and touring dates have read like a “who's who” of all the “who's” of jazz The depth of his skill demonstrates why so many agree that the creative stylings of Alex Blake, reinvented the bass.
His talent can be measured by the plenitude of masters who have called upon him for his inventive playing. They include: Dizzy Gillespie, Carlos Santana, Sonny Rollins, Sun Ra, Nancy Wilson, Art Blakey, Freddie Hubbard, Stan Getz, McCoy Tyner, Max Roach, Billy Cobham, The Manhattan Transfer, Astrud Gilberto, Pharaoh Sanders, Airto, Harry Belafonte, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Jimmy Buffett, Jonathan Butler, Betty Carter, Charito Billy Cobham, Celia Cruz, Joey DeFrancesco, Chico Freeman, Stan Getz, Astrud Gilberto, Mac Gollehan, Norman Headman Weldon Irving, Ryo Kawasaki Earl Klugh, Pati LaBelle, The Last Poets, Yusef Lateef, Frank Lowe, Carmen Lundy, Manhattan Transfer, James Moody, Sun Ra, Do-um Ramon, Carls Ward, Kazumi Watanabe, Lenny White, Nancy Wilson to name a few. Within the past decade and a half, he has performed with Randy Weston. Each artists chose Alex as a source of ingenuity, inspiration, and versatility.
He would go onto travel across every continent, focusing on his full-time live performance career, almost exclusively, until the late 70s when he took a break to record and release his first album.
Christopher Porter of The Jazz Times wrote: "Blake’s first album as a leader, Especially For You (Sony), came out in 1979, but only in Japan; Now Is the Time marks his American debut. Bubble Core co-owner Adam Pierce, who plays vibes, bass and percussion in the dub-jazz duo The Dylan Group, saw Blake in performance and was so knocked out by the bassist that he offered to release an album. While the Bubble Core is eclectic, it has focused mostly on experimental electronica and rock; Now Is the Time marks its first straightahead jazz release—and it’s an auspicious debut."
In 2002 following the release of his first album, "Now Is The Tme", Mark Corroto wrote, "Randy Weston’s secret is revealed on this live date from New York’s Knitting Factory. But anyone who has seen the tall pianist knows his rhythm secret is Alex Blake."
As a band leader, composer, songwriter, side man, and educator, Alex Blake’s original compositions encompass a range musical styles. He has recorded on multiple Grammy-winning albums, and was inducted into the Brooklyn Jazz Hall of Fame and Museum, receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Central Brooklyn Jazz Consortium in 2011.
Mr. Blake will be releasing his new album early, 2018.
He performs at festivals, jazz clubs, and performing arts centers in the U.S. and around the world. His energetic and inventive themes dazzle as well edify audiences about the limiteless potential and timeless legacy of jazz.
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The content was conceptualized to express and expand story elements that define the legacy of Alex Blake. As a brand, Mr. Blake is known internationally for his ingenuity, and for the inspiration that transcends his mastery on stage.