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Terence Blanchard

Jazz musicians are some of the coolest cats on the planet. Creative, down to earth, and soulful are just a few short descriptions for these individuals who take life and transform it into beautiful, intense and crazy expressions. Their language is based on reality and keeping it real is what straight ahead music is all about. Straight ahead, forward thinking and towards the future is where the creative ideas lie.

"Flow," Terence Blanchard’s brand new album, soon to be released this June, expresses music as it is happening now in the present and let’s your imagination "Flow" straight into the future. You may think that these cats have taken a word and created a concept to build an album on. Not true. Flow was the last tune written for this album and its funky rich bass line and melodic groove were just some of the key elements that cohesively brought it all together.

This album was produced by Terence and Herbie Hancock. Herbie has not produced anyone else’s project besides his own since he collaborated with Dexter Gordon back in the day. It was Herbie’s idea to take "Flow" and divide it into three parts and spread it throughout the album as a three-part suite. It works in part to provide direction and a solid base on which to "Flow."

Terence and I spent some good time hangin’ out in his Hollywood hideaway and we got a chance to talk about "Flow" and get inside the music and the man behind it.

JazzReview: How did you come up with the concept for "Flow?"

Terence Blanchard: "Whenever we play, these guys go in different directions every night. And, that is kind of one of the unfortunate things, that when you guys listen to the CD, you are only hearing one version of the tunes. When it came time to come up with a title for the album, we were going through all of these things to try to find the word that best describes what we do live, and "Flow" was the thing that came about."

JazzReview: On "Benny’s Tune," I heard one note that reminded me of some of the music on "The Heart Speaks." How do you play that note and not go back to what you have played before, but go forward to what you will play in a new composition?

Terence Blanchard: "You can’t think about it. This is the whole reason why musicians have to continue to be on a path to higher learning and trying to expand the pallet. Because if you make a conscious decision to be different, it may not be as musical as it should be because it is not coming from the right place. Whereas if you are learning new things, you start to develop new tunes based on new sounds that you like and things start to move in different directions."

JazzReview: Whenever you play with other musicians, you take a little piece of what they have and incorporate it into your being, it becomes a part of you. What little piece have you incorporated or learned by playing with Wayne (Wayne Shorter) and Herbie?

Terence Blanchard: "What I have gotten by playing with Herbie and Wayne over at the Thelonious Monk Institute is just the key to just be free! When you start to play this music, you are always looking for validation from your elders, and those guys make you feel like you have just as much of a right to play this music and you can do whatever comes to mind. Forget about upholding the tradition and just really be who you are. This band has developed its sound purely by just trying to figure out how to play these compositions."

JazzReview: Do you set up some skeletal framework and let the cats put their layers on top of it or how does it all come together?

Terence Blanchard: "It is a combination of a number of things, but the main thing is that the compositions have to be interesting. Compositions evolve and the way you hear them at first is much different than after you have heard them for three months. You can’t control it! You have to allow it to be what it is going to be and just go with it. I have the best fun playing with these guys because they take me in directions that I would have never ever gone in without them. This is the best band that I have ever had in my life!"

JazzReview: Has Blue Note given you the freedom to do your dance?

Terence Blanchard: "Being on Blue Note is so different than being on any other label that I have been on. Other labels are run by businessmen who love the music and it was reflected in the projects that they wanted you to do. But, when I got to Blue Note, I knew guys like Bruce Lundval and Tom Evered and Michael Cuscuna for a long time, but what I started to discover is that these guys are serious music lovers. It came time to do another record of all original music and when it was presented, those guys heard it and said, 'Let’s go with it!'"

JazzReview: In terms of your personal growth as a musician, how is it possible for you to measure that?

Terence Blanchard: "Well, there are of course all of those technical things that you want to work on like having your phrasing or your sound develop in a certain way, but that thing that I have come to learn is that you can’t determine what it is and you can’t predict it. You always set goals for yourself, but you really just kind of have to accept the totality of your situation, not just accept the things that you want to accept."

"I have been watching this band grow and it goes in some directions that I would not have gone in, but I sit back and listen to it and say, 'Wow, that’s hip!'"

JazzReview: Well, when I listen to this album, it sounds like a soundtrack. Did you write it that way or can you not help but write that big?

Terence Blanchard: "Well, no, what happened with this record is the same thing that happened when I wrote "Jazz in Film." I had been writing for orchestra all of this time and had all of this experience and I need to bring that together with what I am trying to do as an artist. I had been using electronic instruments in my film music for a long time and I started to hear these other colors and sounds, but I did not want to use those instruments in any way that would replace acoustic instruments. They were just there to enhance what we do."

JazzReview: How can we get your music and jazz music in general into ears, minds and hearts of those who only like easy listening music?

Terence Blanchard: "It’s an interesting time in which we live in because I really think that the music can break out and touch a lot of people, but it’s encumbered upon us as artists to strive to be who we are, work hard and have something to offer. Because I think the listening public is dying for it!"

"I think that there are a number of people out there that when you put on great music, they respond. I have to find my sound and my rhythm and I think in doing that, you start to create a rhythm and a sound that is part of your generation and part of your culture and it touches more people."

JazzReview: In terms of artistry, the music, radio and the music business in and of itself, do those things benefit you? For some, all of those circles do not come together.

Terence Blanchard: "It took some time for all of those things to come together for me and it is just a matter of being diligent. See, one of the things that you have to remember is that I am one of the few guys that have managed to keep a band and that is hard. Because the economics of the business don’t necessarily give you a safe haven. I think that is part of it and I think that people expect from me a group sound, but you have to make sacrifices. And I think that these particular guys in the band understand what we have as a group. When we come back from a long break and we are playing a gig for the first time, and nobody want to say it, but somebody will finally say, "Damn, I miss you cats!'"

JazzReview: I have heard some people making the comparison between you and Art Blakey in terms of honing young cats and bringing them up in the music.

Terence Blanchard: "Well I learned a lot from him in terms of leading a band. When I first joined the band, he wanted us to write the tunes. I wanted to play all of the old Messenger stuff, but Art did not want to do that. He said, "You have to do your own thing; you have to put your mark on this music." He just gave us all of this room to do our own thing and then featured us every night in his own band."

"At the time, Billy Pierce was the musical director and when he left the band, I was the youngest one and he said to me, 'You need to be the musical director because you need to have that responsibility" and that was cool because it helped me learn how to lead a band and program shows. Bu (Art Blakey) said, "You’re a Jazz Messenger now, don’t worry about anything. You are just here to get your stuff together and learn how to be a band leader because that is what we need in the business, more band leaders.'"

JazzReview: If we were to describe your band in terms of hoop, what would your squad be like?

Terence Blanchard: "My squad would be like the old Lakers. I am talking about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Byron Scott, Michael Cooper and Magic Johnson. That’s the kind of squad that I have and it’s funny, I am not the point guard. I am just waiting around for someone to pass me the ball so I can shoot!"

"The reason why I compare my band to that team is because you did not know how to defend that team. Anybody could be hot on any given night and whoever was hot, Magic did not have any ego about it, he fed them the ball."

JazzReview: So what’s happening in the movie business, are you working on a new project?

Terence Blanchard: "Yeah, there is a project called, "A Kill and the Bee" with Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett that Spike is going to have in production this summer."

JazzReview: Spike has been pretty instrumental?

Terence Blanchard: "Spike has been big, big, big. One of the biggest things about Spike is that I came to his world and he had a definite idea about what he wanted. But, he has been open to anything; you just have to convince him. And when he sees the practical application of all of the music, he’s like, Cool!"

"He doesn’t want me to score films like the LA dudes score films. He likes melody playing through the scenes, which could be rough sometimes, but that type of structure has made me grow in terms of how to structure those melodies around the dialogue and use certain types of structure to make room for the dialogue. It’s been great!"

JazzReview: Well, it has been great and truly a pleasure hangin' with the one and only Terence Blanchard. Everyone please check out this CD. It's due to be released in early June and it is called, "Flow." You will dig it!

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Terence Blanchard
  • Interview Date: 5/1/2005
  • Subtitle: Flow
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