It has been quite a year for the New Orleanian trumpeter bandleader Terence Blanchard whose score for Black KkKlansman this year was one of his best. His band album release Live (Featuring The E-Collective) also found inclusion in our albums of the year.
The number of jazz musicians with a broad impact on modern pop culture is dwindling. One helping to keep it alive is Terence Blanchard. Born in 1962, Blanchard was ideally positioned to take the music of his own era and its recent past and bring it forward into the new millennium. He started back in 1980 with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra before joining Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. Later, as a composer he has written over 40 scores and performed on still more. His time touring with bands laid the groundwork for his success as a composer, and in a 2013 interview which appeared around the time of Blanchard’s Blue Note Records release Magnetic the artist discussed his time with Blakey, citing Blakey that “to find your identity musically, you have to compose”. Clearly, Blanchard took this particular piece of advice to heart, and it was advice that ultimately had an incredible impact on him.
While Blanchard has for many years continued to lead his own bands his greatest successes have come in the film industry. These represent some of his best.
Malcolm X Blanchard is perhaps best known for having composed the music for many of director Spike Lee’s famous films. The composer has said that he drew upon a fear he felt hearing clips of Malcolm X talking about revolution to compose the trumpet-heavy, mournful yet almost war-like theme for the film.
Summer of Sam Another Spike Lee film, inherently haunting in that it deals with the 1970s New York serial killer dubbed “Son of Sam” it was certainly difficult content to score. Yet Blanchard maximised his own talent and experience to capture a theme that worked. The main score for the film feels simultaneously grand and emotional, encapsulating both the enormity of the events and the sensitivity of the subject matter.
Miracle At St. Anna The main theme relies on piano and results in a tip-toeing melody almost antithetical to the war-related scenes. It’s hard to think of a war film with such a delicate main theme.
BlacKkKlansman is his most recent and among Blanchard’s best work expected to be in the running for best original score at the Oscars.
Terence Blanchard’s impact on jazz may prove to go far beyond any one score, touring band, or Grammy award. Music that might be considered old-school or vintage among younger audiences has only so many avenues of reaching new ears.
Some classic and metal rock groups have turned to the unlikely avenue of casino games to lend their sound to slot reels. These game sites have their ways of exciting players new and old, but engaging themes for games are even better than promotions and bonuses, which means there’s been an audience for things like Megadeth and Guns N’ Roses slots. Who knows? Jazz may even be next.