John Blake, Jr., Violinist and Pew Fellow, Dies at 67

John Blake, Jr., 2010 Pew Fellow. Photo by Colin Lenton.

John Blake, Jr., a jazz violinist and 2010 Pew Fellow, passed away on August 15, 2014. A performer, composer, educator, and collaborator, Blake began studying violin in the Philadelphia public school system and went on to teach at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts, the Manhattan School of Music, and Berklee College of Music in Boston. He is survived by many family members, including Charlotte Blake Alston, a 1994 Pew Fellow in theater.

Over the course of his career, Blake served as a band member for legendary musicians such as Grover Washington, Jr., McCoy Tyner, Archie Shepp, and many others. He studied music as far away as Montreux, Switzerland, but returned to Philadelphia to teach and record. In a 2005 compilation, A Celebration of Fiddle Music from Africa to America, Blake traced the history of the violin in African and African-American music. His 2010 album, Motherless Child, featured jazz arrangements of traditional spirituals.

In The New York Times, Blake is noted 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.” Read more >

In remembrance, NPR has reposted a 2001 appearance on Billy Taylor’s Jazz at the Kennedy Center, spotlighting John Blake, Jr., who plays with Billy Taylor (piano), Chip Jackson (bass), and Winard Harper (drums). Read more >

WRTI writes that Blake “gave so much of himself to thousands of students across the Philadelphia region, instilling in them his love of music and the jazz tradition.” At the time of his Pew Fellowship award in 2010, Blake spoke about his connection to future generations: “I’m constantly developing a younger audience. It is a must to keep jazz alive.”

Click here for funeral and public viewing details, listed in the Philadelphia Inquirer’s obituary.

Watch an artist profile of John Blake, Jr., featuring a performance in Media, PA with Jimmy Bruno (guitar) and Gerald Veasley (bass), courtesy of Philly Jazz. Click the links below for more videos and tributes.


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