Oliver Lake

Doris Duke Artist Award, 2014

Montclair, NJ

Alto saxophonist and composer Oliver Lake possesses a piercing, bluesy trademark sound that has anchored trailblazing ensembles such as the World Saxophone Quartet, Jump Up, and Trio 3. He has played and recorded with saxophonists David Murray, Julius Hemphill, and Hamiet Bluiett, as well as pianists Donal Fox, Borah Bergman, Geri Allen, and Irene Schweizer. Lake has received commissions from the Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra and the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra; written chamber pieces for the Arditti and Flux String Quartets; arranged music for pop and rock figures Björk, Lou Reed, Me'Shell NdegéOcello, and Mos Def; and collaborated with poets Amiri Baraka and Ntozake Shange, and choreographers Ronald K. Brown and Marlies Yearby. An accomplished poet, painter, and performance artist, Lake has also toured a solo performance piece, Matador of 1st and 1st. His numerous honors include a Mellon Living Legacy Award (2006) and a Guggenheim Fellowship (1993). Currently, he is a featured artist with the collective Tarbaby, a project that received support from the French American Jazz Exchange (2012).

  • Photo Credit: Yasmin Grogan
  • Oliver Lake String Ensemble performs "Hey Now" (2013)
  • Oliver Lake and Trio Three perform “All Decks” (2012)
  • Photo Credit: Yasmin Grogan

What fuels your impulse to make creative work?

My impulse is driven by my desire to compose for and perform in different instrumental settings—be it solo, saxophone quartet, octet, 17-piece big band, string quartet, or full orchestra. I find the different colors of each instrument continually inspiring and my desire to share the gift of music with the world is unwavering. When improvising, I look to communicate and interact with the audience, an exchange between performer and listener, and arrange the 12 tones differently, with the hope of constantly inventing and surprising both myself and the audience. The ritual of conceiving music, writing and arranging, and finally performing it, is a journey that will always keep me inspired.