Oscar nominee, six-time Grammy-winner and 2018 USA Fellow trumpeter/composer Terence Blanchard has been a consistent artistic force for making powerful musical statements concerning painful American tragedies – past and present.
From his expansive work composing the scores for Spike Lee films ranging from the documentary When the Levees Broke, about Blanchard’s hometown of New Orleans during the devastation from Hurricane Katrina to the epic Malcolm X; and the latest Lee film, BlacKkKlansman, Blanchard has interwoven melodies that created strong backdrops to human stories.
Blanchard received an Oscar nomination for his original score for BlacKkKlansman. He was also BAFTA nominated for his original music for the film. He won a Grammy for Best Instrumental Composition for writing “Blut Und Boden (Blood and Soil)” a track from BlacKkKlansman.
More recently, Blanchard has composed his second opera, Fire Shut Up in My Bones, based on the memoir of celebrated writer and The New York Times columnist Charles Blow. The libretto was written by Kasi Lemmons and Opera Theatre of Saint Louis commissioned the opera which had its world premiere in St. Louis in June 2019. The New York Times has called Blanchard’s opera “inspiring,” “subtly powerful” and “a bold affecting adaptation of Charles Blow’s work.” Fire Shut Up in My Bones will have an upcoming production staged by the Metropolitan Opera, making it the first opera by an African American composer in the institution’s 136-year history. Blanchard’s first opera, Champion premiered in 2013.
With his current quintet E-Collective, featured on the score to BlacKkKlansman with a 96-piece orchestra, Blanchard delivers “a soaring, seething, luxuriant score,” comments the New York Times. In Vice Magazine, Blanchard elaborates, “In BlacKkKlansman it all became real to me. You feel the level of intolerance that exists for people who ignore other people’s pain. Musically, I can’t ignore that. I can’t add to that intolerance. Instead I have to help people heal from it. “
Some of Blanchard’s other film credits include Black or White starring Kevin Costner and directed by Mike Binder; the Kasi Lemmons’ films, Eve’s Bayou and the upcoming Harriet; George Lucas’ Red Tails; and Tim Story’s Barbershop.
With his newest Blue Note jazz album, Live, Blanchard addresses the staggering cyclical epidemic of gun violence in this country. He delivers seven powerful songs recorded live in concert that both reflect the bitter frustration of the conscious masses while also providing a balm of emotional healing. With a title that carries a pointed double meaning, the album is an impassioned continuation of the band’s GRAMMY-nominated 2015 studio recording, Breathless.
The music of Live was symbolically culled from concerts performed at venues in three communities that have experience escalating conflicts between law enforcement and African American citizens: Minneapolis (near where Philando Castile was pulled over and shot by a cop on July 6, 2016); Cleveland (near where 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot by police on November 22, 2014); and Dallas (near where police officers Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, Brent Thompson and Patricio Zamarripa were assassinated while on duty covering a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest on July 7-8, 2016). The E-Collective’s Live project condemns gun violence of all manner whether against profiled citizens of color or targeted members of law enforcement.
Experimental, electric and exotic, E-Collective consists of Terence Blanchard on trumpet, Charles Altura on guitar, Fabian Almazan on piano and synthesizers, Oscar Seaton on drums, and new addition David “DJ” Ginyard on bass. “This band is an example of the revolution that is taking place,” Blanchard explains. “When you look at the conglomeration of us all from different walks of life, look at how we come together and create something harmonious. We are what the promise of America is supposed to be.”
Terence Oliver Blanchard began playing piano at age 5, and later trumpet beginning in summer camps alongside his childhood friend Wynton Marsalis. While studying jazz at Rutgers University, Blanchard was invited to play with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra in 1982 before Marsalis recommended him as his replacement in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Following a string of collaborative recordings, he released his first self-titled solo album on Columbia Records in 1991, leading to a string of acclaimed often conceptual works and over forty movie scores.
Regarding his consistent attachment to artistic works of conscience, Blanchard confesses, “You get to a certain age when you ask, ‘Who’s going to stand up and speak out for us?’ Then you look around and realize that the James Baldwins, Muhammad Alis and Dr. Kings are no longer here…and begin to understand that it falls on you. I’m not trying to say I’m here to try to correct the whole thing, I’m just trying to speak the truth.” In that regard, he cites unimpeachable inspirations. “Max Roach with his ‘Freedom Now Suite,’ John Coltrane playing ‘Alabama,’ even Louis Armstrong talking about what was going on with his people any time he was interviewed. Herbie Hancock & Wayne Shorter who live by their Buddhist philosophy and try to expand the conscience of their communities. I’m standing on all of their shoulders. How dare I come through this life having had the blessing of meeting those men and not take away any of that? Like anybody else, I’d like to play feel good party music but sometimes my music is about the reality of where we are.”
In June 2019, Blanchard was named the first Kenny Burrell Chair in Jazz Studies at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music.