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Kenny Blake: A man for every day of the season

| Sunday, Dec. 24, 2017, 9:00 p.m.
Kenny Blake and his band play during a jam session on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016 at Joey's The Edge bar in Export.
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
Kenny Blake and his band play during a jam session on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016 at Joey's The Edge bar in Export.
Kenny Blake was just one of the many local area jazz musicians performing at the Irwin Art & Jazz Night on June 20.  Others included Benny Benack III, Rick Struzzi and Jeremy McCall, Thom Book, Bentley & Romito and Judi Figel with Dave Crisci.  Blake entertained crowds at the corner of Third and Main Street.

Lillian DeDomenic | For The Norwin Star
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Norw
Kenny Blake was just one of the many local area jazz musicians performing at the Irwin Art & Jazz Night on June 20. Others included Benny Benack III, Rick Struzzi and Jeremy McCall, Thom Book, Bentley & Romito and Judi Figel with Dave Crisci. Blake entertained crowds at the corner of Third and Main Street. Lillian DeDomenic | For The Norwin Star

“There's at least 12 days of Christmas,” Pittsburgh jazz great Kenny Blake reasons, “and I'm a firm believer in using them all.”

That's the Monroeville resident's way of saying that just because his next “Kenny Blake and Friends” concert at the Oaks Theatre in Oakmont doesn't happen until two days after Christmas, Dec. 27, that won't preclude him from including holiday material in a repertoire that will offer a wide variety of all seasons' stylings.

“I just love Christmas, always have,” he says. He sees the “Merry Christmas & Happy New Year Wishes Show” as an opportunity to reminisce about the past, reflect on the present and look into the future.

Helping the saxophonist bring it all together are some of the leading musicians in the region: Vocalist Antoinette Manganas, drummer Louis Franceschini and keyboardist Max Leake, now also an adjunct professor of music at Duquesne University.

Blake praises the talents of his group. Of Leake, he says, “He's wonderfully experienced and has an incredible range of styles. His goal, like ours, is to try to be authentic in whatever style you are playing.”

Blake likes to draw from an ample repertoire. “I find I do audibles at the line of scrimmage, go with the energy and vibe of the audience. And I get to pick things I like to hear and I like an awful lot of things,” he explains, chuckling.

He uses the term “jazz” to describe the significant instrumental influence, often improvised, in his repertoire. “We also do some traditional swing things, groove-oriented things,” Blake says.

This veteran artist says he finds himself “very excited about music in a way I haven't been in the past.”

He's exploring each moment of the music-making process, how it all comes together, the energy of the audience and the contributions of the other players.

Blake is working on a new album for 2018, and he hints that he was inspired by the spirit of David Bowie's 2016 and final album, “Blackstar,” which Bowie recorded knowing that he was dying.

Performing in the restored Oaks Theatre, and acknowledging the dedication that went into saving the venue, also provides artistic inspiration, he says. “You can't help as a performer rising to the occasion,” he says.

Rex Rutkoski is a Tribune Review contributing writer.

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