Johnathan Blake’s Explosive Debut as Bandleader at the Village Vanguard

By Karen Rempel

Johnathan Blake at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola with Tom Harrell's Infinity Band
Johnathan Blake with the Tom Harrell Infinity Band at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola in November. Tom is standing at the left while a surprise guest trombonist takes the stage. Check out the gorgeous color of Johnathan’s shirt, reflected in the window, and the low rise of the high hats on Johnathan’s kit. Photo by Karen Rempel.

I first saw Johnathan Blake at the Village Vanguard in October 2015, where he was playing drums with Ravi Coltrane’s quartet. I was completely blown away by the intensity of his performance, and by the unique percussion elements he added. His dominance as a drummer was evident even to the neophyte I was at the time. I went backstage to meet him, and we became friends at once. When I brought my mother to see him play with Ravi at the Vanguard in October 2018, Johnathan sat down to chat with my mom after the first set and delayed the start of the second set to talk to her. She was enamored of his kindness and graciousness.

I am a big fan of Johnathan’s, and catch his playing whenever I can. Most recently, I saw him at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola on November 10th with the Tom Harrell Infinity Band. He was incredible on this night. His complex rhythms sounded like he was playing multiple instruments simultaneously, laying a carpet of notes under, over, and through everything. He told me some wonderful news after the show, which is that he will be headlining for the first time in New York, as Johnathan Blake and Pentad, December 3 to 8, 2019 at the Vanguard. If you like jazz, you must check him out in this lineup.

Johnathan Blake has played with the greats—New York’s favorite bandleaders from Ravi Coltrane to Maria Schneider and other top ensembles. Johnathan has laid down the foundation and set the mood for all the great stalwarts in town. He was a member for years in the Tom Harrell Quintet and the Kenny Barron Trio. His bassist pal Dezron Douglas and pianist David Virelles will be playing with him for his headlining gig at the Vanguard, and I can’t wait to see these jazzcats together on stage again. Other members of Pentad include Immanuel Wilkins on alto sax, Joel Ross on vibraphone, and Kris Davis on piano on the weekend.

Johnathan has toured the globe for many years and is truly a world-class, internationally renowned beat-maker. A Grammy-nominated drummer and composer, Johnathan is no light-weight. His discography stretches back to 1996, with his first headlining album, The Eleventh Hour, in 2012, a second CD in 2014, and a new release this year, Trion, featuring Chris Potter and Linda May Han Oh.

Johnathan began playing violin at age three under his violinist father’s guidance, but he never felt at home with the instrument. When he was 10 years old, he scored perfectly on a music aptitude test and a visiting music teacher allowed him to choose an instrument. Without hesitation, Johnathan picked the drum set. We are glad he did!

Johnathan inspired this recording at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola in December, 2015, New York Love Affair #19. You can also check out his website for many more excerpts of his music.

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