[JPL] Terence Blanchard plots New Orleans' requiem and rebirth

r durfee rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com
Mon Sep 17 18:36:23 EDT 2007

Mending the Levees
Terence Blanchard plots New Orleans' requiem and
by Larry Blumenfeld
September 11th, 2007 1:03 PM 

Sitting in a rented room in the Faubourg-Marigny
section of New Orleans, around the corner from the
jazz clubs lining Frenchmen Street, I thought about
the late-August day that had just passed: the second
anniversary of the floods resulting from the levee
failures after Hurricane Katrina. President George W.
Bush dipped his toe in the city for the
occasion—dinner at a Creole restaurant, a quick
address delivered at a Lower Ninth Ward school—and
then slipped out of town again like a criminal on the
I had headphones on, listening to trumpeter Terence
Blanchard's new Blue Note CD, A Tale of God's Will (A
Requiem for Katrina). But also rattling around my head
was what Blanchard had told me months ago, when I
visited his uptown home: "This president has gotten
away with a lot. And in New Orleans, he got away with

I recall interviewing Blanchard in 2005, shortly after
the floods: "For all those people to be stranded with
no federal aid, it's criminal." And after he watched
former FEMA director Michael Brown's testimony on
C-SPAN: "It's insulting." And after Bush failed to
mention New Orleans in his State of the Union address:
"Wow! He's bold enough to announce to this city that
he's done with us." 

Louis Armstrong once rebuffed President Dwight D.
Eisenhower, canceling a State Department tour over the
school- integration controversy in Arkansas. "The way
they are treating my people in the South," Armstrong
told newspaper reporters, "the government can go to
hell." Blanchard protested with absence last fall,
opting out of a Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz
reception hosted by the White House. "I couldn't go,"
he told me. "Couldn't act like it was fine." 

Yet Blanchard's association with the Monk Institute is
now a particular point of pride: As artistic director
of its innovative graduate-level jazz-performance
program, he welcomed a new class of students to his
hometown last month for their first semester at Loyola
University, the program's new home. The move (which
Blanchard helped engineer) is important as both a
symbolic and practical tool toward recovery. Train ing
also as teachers in New Orleans public schools, these
grad students can make a dent in a daunting problem: a
troubled school system that has nevertheless long been
a breeding ground for jazz musicians. 

Unlike Armstrong and Wynton Marsalis, who left New
Orleans for fame and for good, Blanchard returned to
his hometown mid-career, a decade ago. As a film
composer (among others, he's scored Spike Lee's films
for 20 years), he's of singular distinction within
jazz's ranks. As a quintet leader, he blends the
compassionate authority of his early employer, Art
Blakey, with the empowering ingenuity of one of his
heroes, Miles Davis. As a trumpeter, his technique
distills the curled phrases and bent tones of his New
Orleans predecessors without a hint of throwback or

For God's Will, Blanchard adapted his compositions for
Lee's 2006 documentary When the Levees Broke into a
suite for jazz ensemble and 40-piece orchestra, making
use of all those attributes. He appeared in the film,
too: One Levees scene found Blanchard escorting his
mother back to her home, where she broke down crying
with the realization that everything inside has been
destroyed, right down to the family photos. "Spike's
film showed a very literal expression of what my
family went through," Blanchard says. "Now I can tell
a little more of that story, taking my time and using
the language I know best." Violins voice the storm's
fury, woodwinds the foreboding calm of its wake, his
horn the anguished cries of those left stranded.
Blanchard's requiem contains tightly composed passages
but also moments during which he pushes his trumpet
beyond its comfortable range. Not screeches, exactly—
nothing close to Abbey Lincoln's screams on Max
Roach's 1960 We Insist! Freedom Now Suite, but angrier
and more daring than anything on his previous dozen

The final product sounds like a complete artistic
statement, "But the story in New Orleans goes on,"
Blanchard says. As he performs the material in city
after city, the telling does too. 



Terence Blanchard performs at the Jazz Standard
September 11-16, jazzstandard.net 

Roy Durfee
P.O. Box 40219
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87196-0219
rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com

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