A conversation with top trumpeter Terence Blanchard
Terence Blanchard: The student has become the teacher.
Although trumpeter Terence Blanchard and saxophonist Donald Harrison, both New Orleans natives, were part of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers when the two released 1983's New York Second Line, it didn't take too long for them to form their own group and release five albums as co-leaders.
In the early '90s, Blanchard began pursuing a solo career and put out some great recordings under his own name, including his most recent Blue Note effort, Magnetic, and more than fifty film scores. A masterful composer and improviser, Blanchard is one of the top trumpeters in the world. We spoke with him about recruiting younger players and how composing for film has rubbed off on his jazz playing.
Westword: You played with Art Blakey in the early '80s, and you've brought a lot of young players into your groups. You've got some young players on Magnetic, as well. Do you see yourself as sort of passing on that tradition that Blakey had, where he groomed young players?
Terence Blanchard: Maybe. I didn't think of it like that, but maybe that could be the case. I've had a reputation of having young musicians that have gone on to have careers. In that regard, I know I'm like Art Blakey, because Art's whole thing was to create bandleaders. And one of the things that I'm trying to do with my group is give all of my musicians enough room to experience what it's like to create your own art.
Is that one of the reasons you let some of your musicians compose tracks for Magnetic?
You've quoted Blakey before, where he said, "Composing is the way you find yourself."
Composing is the way you find your voice, because when you have to commit those notes to paper, you have to make choices, and as soon as you start making choices, you start defining your musical identity.
You run your trumpet through some electronics on Magnetic. Have you done more of that in recent years?
Well, I've been doing it for a number of years; it's just that it hasn't made to a CD until now. It comes from my film career and just dealing with other types of sounds and colors, and utilizing those things for those strengths and not using them for their weaknesses.
Has writing for film rubbed off on your jazz stuff?
Yeah, definitely. When you talk about the electronic thing, the film career has a lot to do with that. When you talk about shaping an entire show over the course of an hour and a half, or whatever it is, film has a definite influence on that, because working in movies, you have to learn how to have an arc in the story that you tell. So film has changed my life creatively in a huge way.
What is it about playing that is such a joy and such a passion for you?
There's an immediacy to it, you know what I mean? There's a certain kind of flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants aspect to it. It's like being in a boxing ring. You study and study and study for a fight, but when the fight starts, you don't know what's going to happen, and it will take on its own identity and its own character. Well, that's that same thing that happens on the bandstand. We'll call some music, but we don't know what's going to happen with the music, because I know everyone is going to do something different.
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