Blanchard to perform “A Tale of God’s Will”

October 1, 2010

Blanchard to perform “A Tale of God’s Will”

By Pheralyn Dove
Philadelphia Tribune Correspondent

In Terence Blanchard’s hands, the trumpet’s long languid lines sear across an intense emotional soundscape on “A Tale of God’s Will: A Requiem for Katrina.” His wailing intonations on the recording conjure images of profound loss and incomprehensible devastation, yet they also herald the resilience, the hope and yes, “the will” of a people to survive. “A Tale of God’s Will” is layered with complexities. It is a tone poem, a dirge, a praise song and a poignant account of an historic event.

On Sunday, Oct. 3, Blanchard will bring his quintet to the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Center to perform this tour de force. Joining him will be tenor saxophonist Brice Winston, pianist Fabian Almazan, bassist Joshua Crumbly and drummer Kendrick Scott.

Because New Orleans is his hometown, Hurricane Katrina holds significant importance to Blanchard, a four-time Grammy Award winner and artistic director of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. For him, Katrina was not a sensational news story. It was the story of his life.

He witnessed his own mother lose her home and every material possession she owned, not to mention experiencing the loss of the lives of so many loved ones, neighbors and associates. Five years later, the devastating wreckage is still fresh in his mind. “It’s the type of event where everything in your life is either Pre-Katrina or Post-Katrina,” Blanchard said during a recent telephone interview from his home in New Orleans. When the storm hit, all he could think about was connecting with his mother.

“Finally I found my Mom. My Mom lost everything in her house — everything. It broke my heart. Literally, I had to take her shopping for everything — I mean, everything. … But I had her. She was alive. So many people lost loved ones. I still feel fortunate she’s still around. I feel fortunate I was able to rebuild the house for her. I’m fortunate I can still do for her.

“I brought her out to Los Angeles where I was at the time. I was talking to my Mom one day about family members. She got up to get the pictures and then she stopped. Suddenly it became real that all of our family memorabilia is gone.”

Blanchard continued, “Katrina made me realize, it’s not about the house, the car, the fancy clothes; it’s not about the material things. It’s about family, about your friends, your relationships, your community.”

All of this is communicated through the music in “A Tale of God’s Will,” which also serves as the soundtrack to the Spike Lee documentary film, “When the Levees Broke.” The creative process of composing “A Tale of God’s Will” was protracted. Blanchard said he was not satisfied with his first few attempts at creating a musical account of Katrina. His wife, Robin Burgess, came to his rescue when she suggested that he create a composition to correlate with each segment of Lee’s film. That idea worked and the result was a masterful creative project featuring 13 original compositions.

Scoring “When the Levees Broke,” was not the first time Blanchard collaborated with Lee.

Indeed, he is credited with composing a plethora of soundtracks for Spike Lee films, including “Malcolm X,” “Jungle Fever,” “Clockers,” “Bamboozled” and “Inside Man,” just to name a few. In all, Blanchard has scored more than 50 films. Yet he has stated that his first love is bringing live jazz directly to audiences.

Music has been an essential element throughout all of Blanchard’s life. An only child born to Wilhelmina and Joseph Oliver, he began taking piano lessons at the age of five and picked up the trumpet at the age of eight.

He studied at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts under the tutelage of Roger Dickerson and Ellis Marsalis Jr., the patriarch of the famous Marsalis musical dynasty. In 1980, Blanchard left the Lionel Hampton Orchestra to take Wynton Marsalis’ place with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. During the mid to late 1980s he formed a straight ahead jazz group with saxophonist Donald Harrison. By 1990 he had begun to pursue a solo career.

Trudy Pitts, a Philadelphia-based pianist, composer, university professor and recording artist is very familiar with the work of Blanchard. Not only has she shared the stage with him as a

performer, she said she has also been inspired by his artistry, honesty and humility.

“Terence Blanchard is a bona fide, absolute musician, a trumpeter personified,” said Pitts.

“Through his music, he presents honesty and truth. By sharing his music, he makes a difference in people’s lives. He has been endowed with a very special talent from the Creator. And when that [spark] was ignited, he ran with it: growing, learning, committing and dedicating his efforts. And the compilation of all of these factors is why we know who Terence Blanchard is today. He applied himself, he studied and when the time came, he collaborated with an icon in the film world, Spike Lee.”

John T. Best, a very knowledgeable music enthusiast, includes Blanchard’s recordings in his extensive collection and said he has enjoyed seeing his live performances. “Artistically, Terence Blanchard is a very thorough musician. He brings forth all the emotions with the coloring of his trumpet playing, particularly with his film scores.”