John Blake Jr., jazz violinist and educator

John Blake Jr. was called "the patriarch today of jazz violin."
John Blake Jr. was called "the patriarch today of jazz violin."
Posted: August 21, 2014

John Blake Jr., 67, the Philadelphia jazz violinist and music educator who toured with Grover Washington Jr. and McCoy Tyner, and taught generations of students at the Settlement Music School and the University of the Arts, has died.

Mr. Blake died Friday, Aug. 15, from complications of multiple myeloma, according to his son, Johnathan.

The jazz man grew up in South Philadelphia, and studied violin and piano at Settlement before graduating from West Virginia University with a music degree and going on to the Institute of Advanced Studies in Montreux, Switzerland. Returning home, he cut his teeth playing in orchestras and rhythm and blues groups, at churches and community centers, and in small clubs in Philadelphia and Atlantic City.

By the late 1970s, he was backing saxophonist Washington in the studio and on the road, playing both keyboards and violin. He concentrated on the latter with pianist Tyner, who recorded two Blake compositions on his 1980 album, Horizon.

Starting with Maiden Dance in 1984, Mr. Blake recorded three albums as a leader in the 1980s. He was four times named DownBeat magazine's Violinist Deserving Wider Recognition. He was nominated for a Grammy for Motherless Child, a 2010 gospel jazz collection featuring his jazz quartet and the Washington choir Afro Blue. That year, he was named a Pew Center for Arts and Heritage Fellow.

In a 2011 profile in Strings magazine, the violinist Christian Howes called Mr. Blake "the patriarch today of jazz violin." His students included Regina Carter, Jeremy Kittel of Turtle Island Quartet, and Roots drummer Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson.

"He opened my eyes back then when I was 13 saying that music needs to cross boundaries and how I need to be well-versed in many a genre, not just one particular style of music," Thompson wrote of Mr. Blake, whom he called a "Philadelphia legendary master musician and teacher" on Facebook on Sunday. "Well John just wanna let you know that 13 year old kid heard you loud and clear and literally made a life for himself mixing things and people and objects and cultures and ideas. Thank you very much."

Speaking of the sacred choral music that inspired Motherless Child, Mr. Blake told Strings in 2011: "Over the years, I have seen music cross all kinds of barriers - rich, poor, young, old, race, language - and reach those who are sick and many who are healthy. Much of the early music developed by African Americans was done in the midst of their suffering; whether you are talking about spirituals, blues, or jazz, the roots all go back to the lifestyles of the people from that period, their sufferings, joys, their hopes, and dreams.

"Through my music, I have been blessed and empowered to communicate because of the sacred ground I stand on to share my gift," he continued. "Hopefully, my listeners will be able to find something in the music that will lift them up and make them better in the moment and perhaps beyond."

In addition to his son, Mr. Blake is survived by his wife, Barbara; daughters Beverly Blake Woodson and Jennifer Blake Watson; two sisters; and two brothers.

A viewing will be at Batchelor Bros. Funeral Service, 7112 N. Broad St., from 1 to 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 24. A second viewing will be at Sharon Baptist Church, 3955 Conshohocken Ave., at 9 a.m. Monday, Aug. 25, followed by a funeral service at 11.


ddeluca@phillynews.com

215-854-5628 @delucadan

www.inquirer.com/inthemix

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