Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1099

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The Terence Blanchard Group: The Right Choice

Terence Blanchard
Terence Blanchard The Terence Blanchard Group The Terence Blanchard Group Bilal (Terence Blanchard Group)

Born in New Orleans, Louisiana in March 1962, multi-award-winning jazz trumpeter, arranger and composer Terence Blanchard this month addresses the choices we all make in life - both as a society and on a personal level - through the release of his latest album, appropriately titled âChoicesâ.

Indeed, with more than 29 albums to his credit, Terence has unquestionably established himself as one of the most influential jazz players and movie-score masters of his generation - having to date won four Grammy Awards as a musician, while boasting over 50 scores to his name as a film composer.

With his illustrious career having begun back in 1980 (when he first came to prominence on the jazz scene as a member of the legendary Lionel Hampton Orchestra, before two years later going on to play with the equally-prestigious Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers) an articulate Mr. Blanchard hooks up with Pete Lewis to discuss his aforementioned latest CD. Which impressively boasts vocal input from writer/speaker/educator/activist Dr. Cornel West plus critically-acclaimed contemporary soul singer/writer Bilal.

âI first decided to call this album âChoicesâ based on a couple of conversations Iâd had with Herbie Hancock about how there are no bad choices in the world of artâ, begins Terence in warm, unhurried tones from his home in New Orleansâ famed Garden District: âAnd then from there, just through a series of mental conversations with myself, I got to thinking about the choices we citizens of New Orleans had made in electing officials that allowed our levees to breach. So, while my last album (2007âs Grammy-wining âA Tale of Godâs Will (A Requiem for Katrina)â) was dealing with aftermath and chronicling the destructive effects of Hurricane Katrina, I wanted this latest record to spark a debate about the choices we made then that put us in that predicament, and the positive choices weâre making today that are gonna help make New Orleans a better place.â

Indeed, âChoicesâ was appropriately recorded in Blanchardâs hometown - at the Patrick F. Taylor Library, inside the cityâs Ogden Museum Of Southern Art. Chosen by Terence both for its outstanding acoustics as well as its historical importance to the city, interestingly the library itself is a survivor of both hurricanes and decades of neglect.

âWell yeah, first and foremost we did definitely want to make this record in New Orleansâ, explains Terence: âAnd we actually ended up choosing the Library after my wife had been to an event there. You know, because sheâd been blown away by both the look of it and its acoustics, she suggested I take a look⦠Which I did, and immediately agreed that it would be a great place to record.â

âPlus I also felt The Ogden Museum in itself represents one of the many positive comeback stories that are happening in New Orleans right nowâ, he continues: âYou know, its survival to me symbolises the dedication and the love affair that the citizens have with this place. And I also look upon it as being a very important success story, period, in the world of art. In that itâs an old-established library that has one of the largest collections of Southern art in the country, if not the WORLDâ

Accompanying Blanchard on âChoicesâ meanwhile are his longstanding band members Fabian Almazan on piano; Derrick Hodge on bass; Kendrick Scott on drums; along with newcomer Walter Smith 111 on saxophone. All of whom made significant contributions to the compositions on the album. While, as stated above, guest artists (in addition to acclaimed guitarist and Blanchard protege Lionel Louke) include Dr. Cornel West (one of the foremost sociological and socio-political scholars in America today and renowned for seminal texts like 1993âs âRace Mattersâ) plus vocally-flexible soul-man Bilal Oliver.

âWell, because - when I initially started to think about how to best create the debate about topics - I thought spoken-word could really be dramatic and lend a great deal to the atmosphere of the discussion. And Dr. West was the first person that I thought ofâ, relates Terence: âYou know, his eloquence and his ability to bring continuity to a number of different topics is legendary. So to me he was the perfect person to put all of those ideas that we have about choice into an arguable context for everybody to hear.â

âThen Bilal - though best recognised as an R&B/soul singer - has always ultimately expressed and shown his love for ALL different types of music, including jazz. So, when he and I did a couple of shows together a few years ago, we agreed to work together at some point. And I thought this was the perfect chance to bring him on board. So, in addition to doing over one of his earlier songs called âWhen Will You Callâ, we also got him to write lyrics to - and sing - a tune Kendrick had already composed as an instrumental, called âJourneyâ.â

Film-wise, meanwhile, with over 50 scores to his credit, Terence remains the most prolific jazz music to ever compose for movies. And, while current projects range from the score for George Lucasâ upcoming âRed Tailsâ to Disneyâs âThe Princess And The Frogâ, arguably Blanchardâs best-known work has been on the soundtracks to African-American director Spike Leeâs movies - ranging from playing on âDo The Right Thingâ and âMoâ Better Bluesâ; to composing the scores for the likes of âJungle Fever, âMalcolm Xâ, âClockersâ - plus Spikeâs 2006 four-hour Hurricane Katrina documentary âWhen The Levees Broke: A Requiem In Four Actsâ. Which also found Blanchard appearing in front of the camera with his mother, to share their emotional journey back to find her New Orleans home completely destroyed.

âOh yeah, I always go the extra mile for Spike. Because film-wise heâs the one that first opened the DOOR for meâ, confirms Terence: âI mean, I was just a session musician on his earlier stuff, But then he heard me playing the piano, liked what I did, asked if he could use it⦠We recorded it - and the rest, as they say, is HISTORY! And, while the biggest highlight for me I guess was when I got the chance to score âMalcolm Xâ - because that was such a big film in my career - probably one of the HARDEST projects was âWhen The Levees Brokeâ. Because I was actually living the reality of what I was seeing on-screen EVERY DAY! But then itâs also one of the projects Iâm most PROUD of. You know, I was very proud of the fact that Spike took the challenge on himself to tell the story - because it was something he didnât HAVE to do⦠And I thought he did an amazing job!â

The Terence Blanchard Group album âChoicesâ is out now through Concord Jazz/Decca Records

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