“One of today's foremost jazz musicians and composers Terence Blanchard's achievements have soared since his formative days in Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers to a trajectory of successful bands” All About Jazz
Terence Blanchard talks to Jazzonline few days before his performance at Sani Festival 2014 .
TB - When I started playing, there were some local musicians here, Alvin Alcorn was one of them, Henry Thompson was another. But when I really got into playing jazz, I was listening to Clifford Brown and Miles Davis. Those were the two guys who really peaked my curiosity and inspired me to want to do better.
2- You are the most prolific jazz musician to ever compose for movies. You have compose more than fifty film scores. You have said “"Writing for film is fun, but nothing can beat being a jazz musician, playing a club, playing a concert”. So first, what is it you like in writing for movie and second what about playing in a club or concert ?
TB - Well when I’m writing for film I get a chance to step outside of myself, depending on the film project. Various films give me various opportunities to do a lot of different things I wouldn’t normally do as a jazz musician. I did a film called Bunraku, which is a sci-fi action thriller, and the score is all based in electronic music. I got a chance to write for orchestra by doing film music, which is something I didn’t get a chance to do just being a jazz musician. But the thing about being a musician, a performing musician, is the immediacy of playing with great musicians and the response you get from an audience when you are moving a direction that you have no control over. It is an amazing ride to be on. There is nothing quite like that in my book.
3- Could you tell us few words about your work at the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. In April 2007, the Institute announced its "Commitment to New Orleans" initiative which includes the relocation of the program to the campus of Loyola University New Orleans from Los Angeles. You had passionately lobbied the Institute to relocate saying, "After Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans was shaken and its musical roots were threatened. I grew up in this city and learned about jazz here at Loyola with other young jazz musicians like Wynton and Branford Marsalis and I know that the Institute will have a great impact on jazz and in our communities. We are going to work hard to help jazz and New Orleans flourish once again."I know this is important to you. So what would you like to say about it.
TB - Education has always been important to me and jazz in New Orleans has always been important to me because this is where I grew up, this is where I’m from. When I think about my upbringing, I think about Alvin Batiste, Roger Dickerson, Ellis Marsalis, Dr. Bert Braud, George Jensen, Kidd Jordan. Those are all of the great educators who have given their lives to educate us. I was just having this conversation with a friend today about where I grew up and where I am in my life and the experiences that I have had based on my musical education. It has made me realize the importance of giving kids all of the tools that they can acquire to help develop their craft, because idea are not going to be the issue for these young musicians. They all have ideas. It is how they develop their ideas. Those are the main tools that anyone in this business should have. I feel very fortunate that I have had some great, great teachers who I still stay in touch with and have conversations with periodically and still learn from.
4-On June 15, You premiered you first opera, Champion, with the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. It is about the life of prize fighting boxer Emile Griffith. This project got great reviews and was acclaimed. How this project was born and how difficult was it to make it ?
TB - Jim Robinson, who was the director at Opera Theatre of St. Louis, contacted me and he told me he wanted me to write an opera. And when he first told me that, I was trying to make sure he had the right guy. Once we settled in on that, the next thing was to try to find a topic. But I have got to tell you that the most amazing thing about OTSL was that they literally stepped me through the entire process, step by step. We had workshops where we worked out some of the initial ideas and then as the ideas became more solid we had two other workshops. At the third workshop, we actually had a mini performance at a college of just the music and all of those things were extremely helpful. But it wasn’t until I actually saw the singers and actors moving on stage, you know live characters, that it really peaked my curiosity and really inspired me. So I am happy to say that they are commissioning me to do another piece. We are in the process of trying to find a topic.
5- What about your performance at Sani Festival. Could you tell us few words about it ?
I’m looking forward to being in Greece. I’m the type of person I love experience the culture wherever I am. I’ve been in Greece before and heard amazing music and had a great time learning more about Greek culture, not just from the stuff you read in high school. So, I’m excited about that. I’m also excited about playing with the musicians over there. I think it is going to be a great experience, and I’m excited to present this music to a Greek audience. Hopefully the people who come will have experiences with these movies and I hope that they walk away with a memorable experience and enjoy it.
6- What are you working on these days ?
TB - I have a couple of projects that I’m working on. I told you a little bit about the second opera. I’m also working on a piece that was commissioned by the Clarice Center at the University of Maryland. It’s a piece that is going to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the ending of the Civil War. We are going to have a libretto that’s created by Nikky Finney, a great poet laureate here. We’re going have the Kronos String Quartet perform it along with a 500 piece choir, so I am excited about that. Then I’m also working on some new music for a new album.
More about Terence Blanchard http://www.jazzonline.gr/en/articlesinterviews/musicians-in-town/item/2774-terence-blanchard.html
More about Sani Festival 2014 http://www.jazzonline.gr/en/jazznews/jazz-festival-in-greece/item/2649-sani-festival-highlights-2014.html