Jun 26, 2013
In today’s jazz world, Terence Blanchard stands with only a few other musicians as a master of performance, recording, education, and composition. His desire to stretch himself artistically has resulted in dozens of Broadway, television and film scores, large scale suites, and now, an opera.
On June 15th, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and Jazz St. Louis combined forces to premiere Blanchard’s first opera, Champion, an “Opera in Jazz” based on the story of the boxing champion Emile Griffith. With music by Blanchard and libretto by the Pulitzer Prize-Winning Playwright Michael Cristofer, Champion gives Blanchard the opportunity to blend the uniquely American tradition of jazz with the dramatic power of opera. The work has been called "a new kind of American masterpiece."
The opera will run through the end of June, when the Blanchard Quintet will hit the road for a summer of festivals and stages around the world. That tour will end with an extended run at Dinaledi Stage in Johannesburg, S. Africa with special guest – and recent collaborator - Lionel Loueke joining the band.
I spoke with Blanchard as he was finishing a week-long stay at the Jazz Standard in New York, where the Quintet featured material from the new CD Magnetic. A true group collaboration, the CD gives the band – Blanchard on trumpet; Fabian Almazan on piano; Kendrick Scott on drums; Brice Winston on tenor saxophone; and Joshua Crumbly on bass – the opportunity o record compositions from the various members, with Blanchard encouraging them to write and grow as artists. The results are a sonic palette that moves from straight ahead sounds (“Don’t Run”, which features guests Ravi Coltrane and Ron Carter sitting in) to more experimental textures on “Hallucinations” and “Pet Step Sitter’s Theme Song”.
Podcast 359 can be downloaded here, as Terence and I talk about the Quintet, Champion, and the creative process of scoring jazz for the stage and screen. Music featured in the podcast includes:
Terence Blanchard – “Jacob’s Ladder” from Magnetic. 21-year-old bass prodigy Crumbly composed what might be the finest track on the CD – a beautiful ballad with a memorable Blanchard solo.
Terence Blanchard – “Pet Step Sitter’s Theme Song” from Magnetic. Blanchard's electronically processed trumpet is a highlight of this Fabian Almazan composition, as well as virtuosic piano work, and Lionel Loueke's usual finesse on guitar and vocalizations.
\Terence Blanchard – “No Borders Just Horizons" from Magnetic. Drummer Kendrick Scott is an underrated performer on the drums, and a strong composer as well. Blanchard is generous with his praise of Scott’s ability to be :”in the moment” as the band improvises.
Terence Blanchard and the Branford Marsalis Quartet – “Say Hey“ from the soundtrack to Mo’ Better Blues. Blanchard has scored dozens of film and stage productions, including a number by Spike Lee, who directed this Denzel Washington film in 1990. The band is Blanchard on trumpet, Marsalis on sax, Robert Hurst on bass, the late Kenny Kirkland on piano and Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums.