About this Artist
Terence Blanchard is unique in the jazz world as an artist whose creative endeavors go far beyond the genre into film scoring, crafting television series soundscapes, and conceiving grand operas that have been recognized at the highest levels of art appreciation. In addition, Blanchard has been at the forefront of giving voice in his works to socio-cultural issues and racial injustices of our time. “Like anybody else, I like to play feel-good party music, but sometimes my music is about the reality of where we are,” says Blanchard who today lives in Los Angeles as well as in his native New Orleans. “I’m just trying to speak the truth.”
Blanchard’s truth has flourished in 2021 which was a banner year for him. He was nominated for an Oscar for his film score writing and arranging Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods, marking his second Academy Awards nomination. He also collaborated with Lee on composing the music for the director’s eight-hour series on the aftermath of 9/11 on HBO. Plus, he scored Regina King’s feature directorial debut, One Night in Miami.… After debuting at the Venice International Film Festival in September 2020, it was released on Amazon Prime Video with the score issued as an album.
Perhaps Blanchard’s most challenging and fulfilling endeavor has been his entry into the world of opera. His second “opera in jazz,” Fire Shut Up in My Bones, based on the best-selling 2014 memoir of The New York Times journalist Charles M. Blow, opened New York’s Metropolitan Opera 2021/22 season—the first time a project by an African-American composer has graced the Met’s stage in its 136-year history. “There’s nothing like it,” Blanchard says. “It’s the greatest form of musical theater that I’ve ever experienced. And to open the Met’s season is very special. I wish my father could see it. He’s looking down and saying, ’I told you so.’”
If those projects hadn’t kept Blanchard busy enough, he also celebrated a significant anniversary in 2021. In his 30th year as a recording leader, the six-time Grammy winner delivered Absence, a masterwork of sonic zest in collaboration with his longtime E-Collective band—pianist Fabian Almazan, guitarist Charles Altura, bassist David Ginyard, drummer Oscar Seaton—and the acclaimed Turtle Island Quartet. What started out as a tribute to jazz prophet Wayne Shorter, Blanchard innovated into a collaboration that created a sublime chamber jazz ensemble with new arrangements of the master’s gems as well as originals inspired by his brilliance as a composer.
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 and 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.”
Blanchard told one scribe, “Music and art have the power to change hearts and souls.” That sums up his social and spiritual mission. —Dan Ouellette