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A Fresh Perspective: John Bracey on James Blake

Photo: John Bracey.

John Bracey, Executive Director of the Michigan Council of Arts and Cultural Affairs, took some time to speak with me about the artist he’s most looking forward to seeing this UMS season: James Blake (who performs at the Michigan Theater on November 11, 2013).

How did you become interested in James Blake?

I find him interesting! He’s young and doing innovative, different things in his music that I find very interesting. I first heard him when he came on my Brian Eno Pandora station. And I liked what I heard. Then, later, I was listening to my Joni Mitchell station and all of a sudden, he popped up there. On that station, too, I heard his cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Case of You,” which I liked. And anyone who does a cover of a Joni Mitchell song must have courage at the very least, I thought, so I continued to listen to his stuff and really enjoyed the different, creative modes he was using in his music.

What about James Blake’s technique do you like the most?

That’s a complicated question. Like I said, I’m a big Brian Eno fan, big Robert Fripp fan from way back…I like traditional sounds as well though, but what I really enjoy is that melancholy folk kind of thing that artists are doing nowadays, like Joni Mitchell. There’s also some poetry in their music as well, which I really appreciate. Like, Leonard Cohen, I’m a big Leonard Cohen fan, huge Laurie Anderson fan…and James Blake seems to play around in all those borderlines of artists and their techniques that I truly enjoy and appreciate.


Some people believe James Blake only appeals to the young, hipster crowd. Do you agree?

Well, not only! I’m definitely not young or hipster. My granddaughter listens to him, so you’re probably right. But not only. And I don’t think he should limit himself by thinking he only appeals to the young, hipster crowd. He is already showing some evolution and growth, in tracks like “Overgrown,” and I hope he continues to invent and grow.

What do you think of established organizations like UMS supporting “emerging” or “popular” artists like James Blake?

I think it’s a great thing for an organization like UMS, which is a jewel in the state of Michigan in terms of the kinds of performance opportunities they allow the citizens of the state to have access to. Over the years, I have seen at UMS everything from Laurie Anderson and Keith Jarrett to the Whirling Dervishes of Damascus. Where else am I going to see that if I’m not living in LA or New York? It’s a huge service. I think it also shows strength in organizations when they’re willing to stick to their mission of bringing the highest quality of art that one can offer while also attending to trends in popular culture.

Some people view popular culture as threatening the classical music traditions. What do you think?

Honestly, I don’t pay a lot of attention to folks when I start hearing that classical music is dying. I don’t believe that. Classical musicians will continue to engage with audiences just as before, but in different ways as well. People will learn to love what’s there. It’ll expand their tastes. Arts organizations that continue to present both sides are thriving while staying true to their mission. It’s about access. They’re more and more not just performance venues, but even visual arts venues, and arts venues generally. You have to compete in that market, but providing access in different ways is really what their missions say they should be doing all along anyway. And I think you’re seeing it.

Are there any other UMS events that you’re looking forward to this season?

I look forward to UMS’s season period. And I don’t get to go to nearly enough of their offerings.

Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions, John!

Join John in attending the upcoming UMS presentation of James Blake on Monday, November 11th at 7:30 pm at the Michigan Theater. Tickets on sale now.