Seamus Blake is one of my favorite saxophonists on the scene today and continues to move jazz in a forward direction appealing to a wide range of audiences. During my senior year of college, I had the opportunity to meet Seamus Blake and attend his masterclass where he discussed sound, practicing in all 12 keys, phrasing, rhythm, among many other topics.
Since then, I have received multiple emails from various saxophonists with questions about Seamus’s playing, equipment, and sound. I recently reached out to Seamus asking if he would be interested in discussing his approach to the saxophone and any upcoming projects. Seamus said he would be happy to.
(partially taken from Seamus’ website)
Seamus Blake, New York based tenor saxophonist and composer, is one of the finest saxophonists on the music scene today. He was born on December 1970 in England and raised in Vancouver, Canada. At age 21, while still a student at Boston’s prestigious Berklee College, he was asked to record with legendary drummer Victor Lewis. After graduation, Seamus decided to move to New York and quickly established himself as one of the top tenor saxophonist in New York. In February 2002, “Seamus was awarded first place in the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition in Washington D. C. and as the winner, had the opportunity to perform with Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock. Due to his popularity, Seamus has worked and continues to work with a wide variety of artists. As a long-standing member of the Grammy-nominated Mingus bands, he is featured on six of their albums. Seamus continues to play and has played with such artists as: Bill Stewart, Kevin Hays, David Kikoski, Alex Sipiagin, Eric Reed, Antonio Sanchez, Scott Kinsey, Tal Wilkenfeld, Jane Monheit, Kenny Barron, Sam Yahel, Michael Brecker, Randy Brecker, Wayne Krantz, Ingrid Jensen, Maria Schneider, Mark Turner, Brad Mehldau, Al Foster, Brian Blade, Jeremy Pelt, Jack Dejohnette and is a member of the Victor Lewis Quintet.
While many saxophonists know Seamus for his tenor saxophone playing, he continues to explore the electronic applications in jazz, especially with the EWI (electronic wind instrument).
ZS: While refining your musical ability, who helped you advance to the musician you are today?
SB: That’s a tough question because short of saying everybody, there are a lot of people that have influenced and helped shape me as a musician over the years. While working with musicians like Victor Lewis, John Scofield, Kurt Rosenwinkel, David Kikoski, Bill Stewart and Guillermo Klein can leave you in awe of their artistry but also inspired and full of ideas. I’m always watching, listening, and learning from many musicians.
ZS: How does today’s tastes in music (Hip Hop, Rap, Country, EDM, etc.) affect your creativity?
SB: There is a lot of bad music out in the present moment and for that I try to protect myself (Earplugs!). Your typical ride in a taxi will expose you to the hit parade of today which is mostly full of trash! However, I learned early on to be open to all kinds of music. It’s the same as being open to new ideas or to new people. It is a powerful ideology and ingredient of creativity. If you look for it there is always great music being made somewhere in all different types of genres. My listening tastes are wide and varied and I find inspiration in some unusual places. I recommend listening to all genres of music to help improve your creativity.
ZS: What exercises or musical ideas do you find yourself working on each day when you practice?
SB: I have a list of different patterns that I have created and practice to continuously maintain and improve my technique. Sometimes I will read through some classical music on my EWI. At the moment, I am writing some ideas down into Sibelius and trying to practice those.
ZS: What are you trying to accomplish musically in the upcoming months?
SB: February 11th, I go on the road with two back-to-back tours with two separate bands of European musicians. The first is an organ trio in the UK. The second is a French quartet. I will be touring in France and Spain with the French quartet. After this tour, I have two concerts in Latvia with a big band. This tour schedule has been taking all my time to prepare the charts and for the rest of the year I am still aiming to write more music despite being on the road a lot. The work never stops to continue finding new material.
ZS: How do you work on developing a more consistent sound through the entire range of the horn in addition to practicing overtone exercises?
SB: I think maybe it’s more setup than diligent practicing. Of course the two go together. A good player with good equipment can make a good sound. In all honestly, I don’t get too technical when I’m practicing. I try to be having fun and enjoy music. I like to stay creative and change up my routine. Sound is very important to me and I feel that I can’t play if I don’t have the right sound. At this point, I feel that I have a good setup and if I’m playing consistently then I don’t have to worry too much about my sound anymore.
ZS: Equipment will always be a topic for musicians when trying to take their playing to the next level. I understand that it’s mostly the player and not the equipment but what would you recommend players look for when test playing new equipment?
SB: It is important to have an understanding of what or whom you are trying to sound like when test playing various types of equipment. You should have a sound in your head. Horns, reeds and mouthpieces should allow you to project, play with dynamics, have the right balance of eq and allow you to play easily. You should not be fighting your setup.
Tonally, I think of the saxophone as an instrument between a trumpet and a woodwind. I want to achieve the power and brassiness of a trumpet and then turn around and have the warmth and wood of a clarinet or the breath and air of a flute. Saxophone is very diverse with tone. The only other instrument with more diversity is maybe a guitar but they are cheating with all of those pedals.
Seamus Blake Equipment
Saxophone: Selmer Super Balanced Action Tenor Saxophone
Mouthpiece: Ted Klum TonaMax HR 8* (117)
Ligature: Ishimori Sterling Silver Ligature
Reed: Roberto’s 4 hard
Case: Marco Magi
Seamus Blake Website
Seamus Blake “Sofa Song”
Seamus Blake talks about Ted Klum Mouthpieces