A 75-year-old Dr. Lonnie Smith cups his hands behind the B3 organ, while a young drummer from New Orleans readies his brushes for the count off. Between the two of them, drummer/composer Johnathan Blake revels in the intensity passing from one generation to the next.
Having appeared on more than 50 recordings, playing with a range of musical icons from Kenny Barron to Roy Hargrove, Blake lives for those moments when he can bring together jazz’s living legacy with its future.
This past week at The Jazz Standard proved momentous for Blake’s tenure with Smith and guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg, marking the release of All in My Mind (Blue Note, 2018)—the band’s first ever trio recording. “It was really nice to finally have an album with both of us on it,” says Blake.
“Even though the record prior to this one, Evolution, has us on it, it’s kind of a larger ensemble; it actually features horns and piano—it didn’t really showcase the trio. So this one is actually geared towards the trio, and there’s a couple special guests: a young New Orleans drummer named Joe Dyson and Alicia Olatuja. It was a lot of fun to get back to some of that music this past week.”
Working with an artist like Dyson, Blake finds himself assuming a role that appeals to his love for the music’s lineage: the mentor. During his time playing with Dyson on Smith’s record, and later for his mentoring series at The Jazz Gallery, Blake had the chance to observe a young talent move through some significant changes in a very short while. “I hadn’t had that much experience in doing two drums, so I was a little skeptical at first about how that was going to sound,” says Blake.
“But as soon as we played, it was beautiful because it was like—no ego. We were just really trying to make music together. After that experience, I was like, ‘Man, I really want more of that.’ So, when I was asked to put together this mentoring series, he was the first person I came to. I really wanted to see how he would approach playing some of my music. (more…)