Terence Blanchard: Jazz History in Every Note

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Trumpet player, bandleader, composer and arranger Terence Blanchard is one of the most critically recognised players in jazz music today. A twelve-time Grammy nominee and five-time Grammy award recipient, Blanchard’s lush, cinematic writing style is at once timeless and yet entirely contemporary, with a tip of the hat to the ghosts of jazz greats past, but with a unique and haunting character that is 100% his own.

Said Vanity Fair of Blanchard, “He plays the most coolly expressive trumpet in jazz, transmuting the instrument’s repertoire of smears, growls, peeps, and blasts into an astonishingly fluid language both luxurious and controlled,” while the Wall Street Journal stated, “Bold, modern jazz that’s respectful of the tradition and served with style and emotion. His writing is superb and heartfelt, his playing perfect…”

You can hear all of jazz history in every note.

Born in New Orleans, Blanchard studied at NOCCA (New Orleans Center for Creative Arts) as a teenager. His professional ascent began while he was still a student on scholarship at Rutgers, touring with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra.  In 1982, Blanchard was tapped by Wynton Marsalis of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers to replace him on trumpet and as Musical Director in a group that also included pianist Mulgrew Miller and saxophonist Donald Harrison.

Blanchard embarked upon a solo career in 1990. Shortly thereafter, he entered into what was to become an immensely successful ongoing creative collaboration with filmmaker Spike Lee when he played on the soundtracks to Do the Right Thing and Mo’ Blues. Terence has since composed the music for all of Lee’s movies, including 25th Hour, Clockers, Malcolm X and Inside Man.

In the years that followed, Blanchard was called upon to score films for other directors, as well as making a series of records for Columbia, Sony Classical, and Blue Note, among them In My Solitude: The Billie Holiday Songbook (1994), Romantic Defiance (1995), The Heart Speaks (1996), Wandering Moon (2000), Let’s Get Lost (2001) and Flow (2005), which received two Grammy Award nominations.

However, the best was yet to come, and was born in the aftermath of tragedy: Hurricane Katrina. As a resident of New Orleans during what became a defining moment for so many, Blanchard drew upon the suffering and loss that he found on his very doorstep — his own mother lost her home in the disaster — for A Tale of God’s Will: A Requiem for Katrina, 2007’s Grammy winner for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album. First conceived in the form of music for Spike Lee’s four-hour HBO documentary, When the Levees Broke, Blanchard then expanded the initial four song repertoire – “Levees, “Wading Through,” “The Water” and “Funeral Dirge” – into a thirteen track recording, with equally worthy contributions from band members Brice Winston (saxophone), Aaron Parks (piano), Derrick Hodge (bass) and Kendrick Scott (drums).

Said Blanchard of the work: “This is what we are called to do as artists…we document our social surroundings and give our impressions of events… I knew I needed to express this musically to keep the story alive.”

For all his accomplishments as in the studio, Blanchard has a passion for performing, and has said that he prefers it to recording: “Recording is a hard process…you’re very self conscious. There’s something that happens when the engineer says we’re rolling – all of a sudden you know, this is forever. But I love live performance: it doesn’t really matter where we are, whether it’s concert hall or a small club…that’s the thing that I love.”

Blanchard’s other passion is education, and he is the Artistic Director of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance, a two-year invitation-only master’s program. Though formerly based at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, the Institute moved to Loyola University in New Orleans in 2007 as part of the effort to revitalize the city.

Blanchard’s latest projects include the 2009 CD for Concord Records, Choices, where his signature atmospheres are a backdrop for spoken word readings by author/activist Dr. Cornel West, along with more straight ahead jazz pieces featuring neo-soul guest vocalist Bilal.

For his San Jose Jazz Festival performance, Blanchard will be joined by saxophonist Winston and drummer Scott, along with pianist Fabian Almazan and Josh Crumbly on bass. You will be treated to jazz at its very best.

Is there a particular Terence Blanchard album or song you particularly cherish? Feel free to share it with us on our Facebook post.