Interviewed by Cory Weeds
March 28, 2002
The following interview, conducted via email, followed the announcement
that ex-Vancouver saxophonist, Seamus Blake, had won the prestigious
Thelonious Monk Award.
Read the story.
André Lachance, Seamus Blake, Dylan
van der Schyff
at The Cellar, 2001
Photo by Cory Weeds
Cory Weeds: Congratulations on winning
this years Thelonious Monk Award. You have said in the past that
you are not a big fan of so called 'competitions.' What made you
enter this particular competition?
Seamus Blake: A student of mine entered and I thought why
not? I don't like competition that's true but it seemed
like an opportunity to meet Wayne Shorter, say hello to Josh Redman
and the other judges, play some of my music with a great rhythm
section and . . . who knows? . . . win a prize??! It was hard on
the nerves and I don't think I will ever do anything like it again.
What do you think the 'immediate' benefits of this award will
The immediate benefits . . . pay off my visa bill . . . a couple
gigs have fallen in my lap. I think there will be more opportunities
to play my own gigs and my own music in the future.
You were awarded a good chunk of money which is to be used for
educational purposes. Do you have any idea what you'll do with that
portion of the award? If you use it for private lessons with someone,
who will it be and why that person?
I haven't really decided any of that yet. I would like to learn
more about computer audio recording and midi . . . and I would like
to study composition.
Canadians and, in particular, British Columbians take a lot
of pride in their musicians "making" it on the international
scene. Does it mean a lot to you that you are Canadian and do you
feel that you as well as the others such as Renee Rosnes are ambassadors
for Canadian jazz?
I'm not sure I want the ambassador title. I feel lucky to have
grown up in a beautiful place like Vancouver but at the same time
I am not a patriot. When I go to Ireland they sort of think of me
as their own. "His name is Seamus he's got to be Irish!"
I was born in London so some people think of me as British . . .
but I was raised in Vancouver and have a Canadian passport. I don't
feel allegiance to any country really . . . but if I had to be from
somewhere Canada is a good place to be from.
You have recorded several records as a leader on Criss Cross
as well as several for different independent labels. You have played
/ recorded with the likes of John Scofield, The Mingus Big Band,
Victor Lewis and Bill Stewart, to name a few, yet you have not landed
a 'major' record contract. Is this a goal of yours and is it important
to you? If yes, why? If no, why not?
Yes and no. I want the opportunity for as many people as possible
to hear my music but the industry is changing very quickly these
days. Many artists have been "dropped" and there is very
little signing going on at the moment. As long as I have artistic
freedom and decent distribution I don't really care about being
with a major label. At this point I enjoy my freedom.
You were recently involved in a Canadian "Sax Summit".
Talk about how it was to be up there with all those saxophonists.
Was it cutthroat or was it friendly competition?
It was really fun! They are all great guys and great players.
We had fun listening to each other and there were plenty of jokes!
Saxophone seems to me not such a competitive instrument. Maybe it's
because of the fact that there are so many of us or that people
like Coltrane were so humble and nice.
I mentioned some of the people you have played / recorded with,
the award you've just won. You've done these things at a relatively
young age. How do you keep yourself motivated to keep learning and
The minute I stop learning or moving forward I may as well be dead.
Playing new things is exciting and gives me reason to get up in
the morning. Plus music is so endless and perfection is such an
endless infinite realm.
Personally I think that 'innovation' is overrated. However,
I do think its important to establish your own voice. Musicians
that play straight-ahead jazz often get labelled as copycats or
accused of not doing anything new. What are your thoughts on that?
There are copy cats in every style. Jazz . . . punk . . . rock
. . . folk. Finding your own voice is the process of nurturing original
thought and exploring creativity. Often, for me, avoiding the obvious
has become instinct. Before you can do that though you have to learn
the obvious or the "tradition" then you can build on that
or extend it or rebel against it. For me it was also a process of
opening up to all kinds of other music and influences.
What are your plans for the next 6 months?
Tours/recordings/gigs/albums etc. I am doing some gigs with the
Mingus Band in April. There is a new CD out. I have some gigs throughout
the summer with my acoustic quartet. Bill Stewart, Larry Grenadier
and Kevin Hays. I'm playing at the Senator in June with those guys
and there might be plans to make a live CD out of it. I'm playing
around town with the Bloomdaddies and our new CD is out. I am also
working on a rock band with my girlfriend in which I play guitar
and sing as well as some saxophone. I also have kind of a groove
quartet that I toured Ireland with. I did some gigs with Charlie
Hunter and we had a great time. We talked about doing some more
Thanks Cory! Look forward to playing The Cellar!
Cory Weeds is a Vancouver jazz musician, radio host, and owner
of Vancouver's premier live jazz venue, The