An Interview with Terrence Blanchard
by Mark Ruffin
Trumpeter Terrence Blanchard was mixing his new album at Avatar studios in New York City when he took a few minutes to talk to Jazzusa.com. The 37 year old composer is currently living in two worlds, that of a leader of a band that tours and records regularly, and that of a Hollywood film composer. – Ed.
Blanchard, the bandleader, has a promising young sextet that includes his long time pianist Edward Simon and young 19 year-old saxophone-playing newcomer Aaron Fletcher. Currently, the latest movie featuring Blanchard, the film composer, Spike Lee’s “Summer of Sam,” is in that marketing purgatory between coming off the big screen and moving on to video. But, there are plenty of Lee’s movies available featuring the work of Blanchard including “Do The Right Thing,” “Mo Better Blues,” “Crooklyn,” and the critically acclaimed score to “Malcolm X,”
“Spike has definitely helped people to understand who I am and what I do as both a leader of a band and a film composer,” Blanchard said by phone from Avatar. “I’m content to live in both worlds right now. I’ve been doing both successfully and I feel proud about that because I’ve known people who’ve had to give up one or the other.”
In the middle part of this century, there were a few well-known Black jazz musicians straddling the line between working in film and on stage including Quincy Jones, Benny Carter, J.J. Johnson, Oliver Nelson and Benny Golson. As we closed the door on the 20th century, one would be hard pressed to find an African-American who’s getting as much work as Blanchard, and not just with Spike Lee. Blanchard’s other film credits include, “The Inkwell,” “Eve’s Bayou,” “Sugar Hill,” and others.
“I have three films I’m working on in the fall,” said Blanchard updating his work. “Two of the projects are solidified, but you know how Hollywood is, I have my deal with them, but I don’t know if they have their deals. I’m supposed to be doing the music for Ice Cube’s sequel to “Friday,” plus something for the director of “Eve’s Bayou.” I also did music for a film for HBO titled “Gia.”
Blanchard entered the jazz world via New Orleans where they grow trumpet players the way Iowa grows corn. He was in the first crop of young lions in the late 70’s and early 80’s that practically saved the acoustic jazz movement. With his childhood friend, saxophonist Donald Harrison, he followed fellow New Orleans musicians Wynton and Branford Marsalis into Art Blakey’s legendary Jazz Messengers and on to stardom.
Blakey, a drummer who died in 1990, was influential in jazz because for 35 years he hired a great number of jazz stars while they were in their formative years. Blanchard has followed in Blakey’s footsteps in making sure that younger jazz musicians gain positive experiences. Except for Simon, Blanchard group members are all in their 20’s.
“These guys bring a certain kind of enthusiasm,” Blanchard said. “They have a wide-eyed usefulness that’s cool. It’s kind of like an Art Blakey thing in that you hear about one (young musician) or talk to one and that one starts to expose you to the rest and these guys come in very excited about playing music.”
Blanchard said, like in Blakey’s time, there’s an endless pool of young good musicians in New York to build a band with. However, in the world of music for Hollywood, he admits that the number of young African-Americans is frightfully small, but his ears are always open.
“There is a young sister I know who is really talented and a really good writer and hopefully people will start to take notice. Her name is Kenya Tillery. She sent me some of her work and I saw her at the Sundance Film Festival Lab for gifted composers and filmmakers. She’s a person I think you’re going to hear about in the future.”
The next album for Blanchard will include all original material and his old friend Branford Marsalis with members of his young band. His current album is appropriately titled “Jazz In Film,” and in addition to movie music by Duke Ellington, and Quincy Jones, his own music from the movie “Clockers,” is included. After doing so many movies, the trumpeter said an album of some of his favorite old movie themes was inevitable.
“It was just time. I had written for all these film project with music for larger ensembles and I always wanted to do that for one of my own (record) projects. “Jazz In Film,” was the perfect opportunity to bring both of my backgrounds together to make one concise musical statement.”