Marie Blake | The Five Oaks

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Jazz: Stride Blues: Blues Vocals Moods: Mood: Fun
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The Five Oaks

by Marie Blake

Legend of NYC's West Village piano bar scene from the 1950's until her death in 1993. She played at many venues , but her 'home' was The Five Oaks, located on Grove Street. Marie's specialty was blues, scat and boogie - and getting all to sing along!
Genre: Jazz: Stride
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  Song Share Time Download
1. Them There Eyes (Live)
2:08 $0.99
2. St. Louis Woman (Live)
2:13 $0.99
3. It Don't Mean a Thing (Live)
2:23 $0.99
4. Gimme a Pigfoot and a Bottle of Beer (Live)
2:23 $0.99
5. I Just Called to Say I Love You (Live)
4:17 $0.99
6. Man Smart (Woman Smarter)
3:06 $0.99
7. Ain't Nobody's Business (Live)
3:12 $0.99
8. Rapture (Live)
3:44 $0.99
9. Rag Mop (Live)
4:30 $0.99
10. Down in the Depths (Live)
3:48 $0.99
11. Prayer Changes Things
3:02 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
Marie Blake, 74, Jazz Singer and Pianist in Village for 40 Years
Obit Published on December 8, 1993

Marie Blake, a scat singer and stride pianist whose renditions of show tunes and jazz entertained lovers of popular music for 40 years in Greenwich Village, died on Sunday at Mount Sinai Medical Center. She was 74 and lived in Manhattan.

For 22 years, Miss Blake was the featured performer at the Five Oaks Restaurant, 49 Grove Street, at Bleecker Street, and for 19 years before that, she entertained nearby at another piano bar, Marie's Crisis.

On any given night, her repertory might range from cozy interpretations of Cole Porter rendered with a throaty purr, to a wake-'em-up "Rag Mop."

Miss Blake had a following of hundreds, if not thousands, of people who believed that listening to a live musician at 3 A.M. in a smoke-filled cafe was a major part of what living in Manhattan was all about. Her banter and ad-libbed one-liners endeared her to two generations of club audiences. The Songs She Felt

Miss Blake once said of her style: "When you sing a song, you have to sort of act it, too, to put it over to the people. You have to feel the song within you."

Among her standards, some of which were released on the 1986 album "Ain't Nobody's Bizness!" were "Miss Otis Regrets," "Honeysuckle Rose," "It Don't Mean a Thing" and "A-Flat Boogie Woogie." She also played calypso music, blues, songs from Broadway shows and whatever else suited her mood.

Miss Blake was born in Moorestown, N.J. She began her performing career at 16 during the Depression with a pickup band on Long Island, playing at country clubs, private parties and eventually college dances along the East Coast.

Moving to Manhattan in the early 1940's, she gained recognition as a member of the Harlem stride piano school, whose headliners were Art Tatum and Fats Waller. She later appeared in the 52d Street clubs with the Duke Ellington and Count Basie bands, and she sang alongside stars like Billie Holiday.

Miss Blake was the featured entertainer at the Cafe Society Club in midtown before moving her act to the Sheridan Square area, where she remained for the rest of her career.


She was born in 1919 and died in December, 1993. Until her obituary appeared in The New York Times, we didn’t know her age, and until we talked to Fredd Tree, we didn’t know she was gay. That’s the way with performers, the better ones: they reveal to us only what they choose to reveal. She couldn’t hide, or didn’t care to, that she was short and plump, unapologetically homely and terribly, terribly tired by the time I knew her. And it should be admitted right away that she did not know me: sometimes she recognized me vaguely, never by name, but most times I was just another customer.

For a few nights every week, she held forth at a baby grand in the Five Oaks on Grove Street, rasping out a repertoire of pop standards in a voice that spanned perhaps three notes, all of them low, none of them sustainable. Her keyboard technique was astonishing for its grace, although it consisted primarily of fingerwork like bricks dropping short distances, and pedalwork like kicking a bad man in the balls; the piano often thumped as she attacked it. I have a recording she made, and to hear it without seeing her, you’d never know her touch was anything but flexible and nuanced. I don’t know how she did it.

Her material was eclectic, but it was an odd night indeed if she didn’t offer several of her signature songs: mostly Fats Waller and Cole Porter numbers, “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “Down in the Dumps (On the 90th Floor),” but also Blondie’s “Rapture,” all the more entrancing for its unexpectedness. Above all there was a song called “Rag Mop,” which according to its lyrics is actually spelled “R-A-G-G M-O-P-P,” and which I’ve never heard elsewhere.

She seemed to chew her words, and the bars and cars and guitars of “Rapture,” especially, took on an elastic quality in her broad mouth. She knew her lyrics too well to find them funny anymore, and sometimes she didn’t even smile as she sang. But that detachment seemed to enhance her formidable comic timing and phrasing. She let the listener discover the jokes, without forcing them. As she got older, her sets shrank from one hour to about 40 minutes, and she alternated sets with younger pianists with more stamina; she resorted more frequently to her sheet music and to a clutter of photocopied fake-book pages scattered around her. Her first piano teacher could play only by ear; she had to learn later how to read music. But no request could faze her, and for a tip she’d play anything you wanted.

Her interpretations were brisk and efficient, and as time passed they became almost perfunctory; she never could be bothered with patter or small talk. She gave every impression of mortal fatigue, almost as if she resented us for keeping her up past her bedtime, and between her sets, she’d retreat to a little cot in the back; during her sets, she’d pace herself by yielding the microphone to her students and to the occasional tipping customer, while she played along. And I mean “played along” to denote not only musical accompaniment but also complicity, possibly criminal, because many of the customers had no business singing at all. She indulged them, for a price, and once she had the money it made little difference to her whether they sang well.



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