By Alexa PetersIJul 20, 2021
Saxophonist-composer Dan Blake has a long history in the world of jazz. But, more recently, he has begun to engage deeply with several militant movements through his long-standing study of Buddhism.
Specifically, Blake strives to live a life of compassionate action, a Buddhist teaching that emphasizes giving without expecting anything in return. This idea motivates his social activism around food insecurity and climate change, and inspired his latest album, Da FÃ© (Sunny side). The recording features pianist Carmen Staaf, bassist Dmitry Ishenko, drummer Jeff Williams and pianist Leo Genovese.
âI try to respond to the inspiration that I have received from the masters of jazz music,â said Blake. âThere is an urgency in this music that has always inspired me so much, and I have recently, over the past five years, started to relate this urgency more to the work of the organizers of the movement who are urgently working to resolve issues. very serious existential problems. “
Blake’s journey of discovery began nine years ago, when an interest in Buddhist meditation that developed during his college days led him to a volunteer opportunity.
“[Meditation] had very little to do with music [at first], “he said.” It was a sphere of its own. But [in 2008], this new organization, Global Relief Buddhist, was formed, and a few years later some members of the meditation group I was going to asked me, “Does anyone want to volunteer?” I said, ‘Well, I’m in this band – I’m going to ask if the band wants to come and play a benefit concert for Buddhist Global Relief.’ And, we did.
Since that performance, Blake has organized nine benefit shows called âConcert to Feed the Hungryâ for Buddhist Global Relief. He also became a member of the organization’s board of directors.
In addition, Blake has been involved with organizations like Extinction Rebellion, which aims to encourage government action on climate change through non-violent civil disobedience.
As Blake’s life begins to revolve more around giving, he found that it supported his creative life and helped him see the intersections between jazz and his social action.
“According to the World Food Program, there are 700 million people in the world who are in acute or constant hunger or food insecurity, and it is an extremely urgent humanitarian emergency,” said Blake. “This kind of urgency has to do with the urgency I hear in improvised music that comes from the African-American tradition, which itself is an outgrowth of the humanitarian crisis.”
Da FÃ© is the direct result of Blake’s recognition of the parallels between these worlds, each born out of an urgent need for innovation. Da FÃ©The post-bop compositions of are emotionally intense and highly exploratory, exemplifying Blake’s understanding of improvisational expression and jazz collaboration, as well as his introspection around global crises and the roles of the collective and the individual in change. In fact, Blake claims that this album was, in some ways, a tool for self-inquiry and discovery around the world’s problems.
âI wanted to explore a musical landscape through layers and density – creating a mirror room effect,â he said. “I think if you take [that] analogy, there is the [idea of] a lot of me, so I think this album is absolutely self-exploring.
Da FÃ© is also inspired by the spiritual leaders and activists that Blake met, who he said instilled hope for a better future. In fact, the Portuguese title of the album translates to “of faith”.
Blake is careful not to confuse himself with the leaders to whom he pays homage on the album. Instead, he identifies as a member of these movements and situates Da FÃ© as an invitation to listeners.
âI think it is important to draw attention to both the extraordinary beauty of [jazz] music that indicates an intense need to engage with the world, but also to show this other piece [with Da FÃ©]”Blake said.” These social movements are trying to collectively change our politics, the way we relate to each other, the way we think about how we should be together in society. Bringing this music into the world then becomes, ‘Let’s dive in. – let’s go together. â Comics
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