Jazz trumpeter/composer Terence Blanchard will explore the music of Wayne Shorter at the Ford Theater in LA

Terence Blanchard

*Terence Blanchard has carved out a winding and exciting musical career since its beginnings in 1982 as a member of the bands of two legends: vibraphonist Lionel Hampton and drummer Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Classically trained and with jazz in his heart, Blanchard has recorded as a soloist, as the leader of several groups, composed more than 40 films (most often with director Spike Lee) and composed two operas, the most recent, “Fire Shut Up In My Bones”, being the first opera by an African-American composer in the history of the Metropolitan Opera of New York. For Blanchard, no undertaking is frivolous. He makes them all count, including including teaching at four higher education institutions.

Currently juggling composing a film for an overseas project, wrapping up a summer tour with Herbie Hancock and revised presentations of “Fire…” in San Francisco, Blanchard will bring his current set, The E-Collective, to the Los Angeles’ intimate outdoor showcase of The John Anson Ford Theater on Tuesday, August 9 to surprise audiences with music from his latest Blue Note Records album, Absence.

This powerful project features Blanchard, keyboardist Fabian Almazan, guitarist Charles Altura, bassist David Ginyard and drummer Oscar Seaton collaborating with the equally progressive and unpredictable Turtle Island String Quartet on compositions inspired by living legend, Wayne Shorter.

In the conversation that follows, Blanchard discusses his ongoing relationship with Shorter, the challenges inherent in approaching his music, and what life has been like for touring musicians post-COVID as he gets back on the track. a spectacle.

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Galloway: What continues to motivate you to do so many projects – on top of each other – all at the same time?

Blanchard: The taxman (big laugh) No… I don’t consider myself a saint. I love music. Sky is the limit. I was just touring with Herbie Hancock all summer in Europe. Seeing him at 82 still kicking everyone’s ass on the bandstand – still researching and being creative – is an example of what I’m talking about. He loves music and playing for people. That’s what motivates me. Everything becomes challenge and adventure.

Galloway: Have you come to a point where you have to refuse things?

Blanchard: It starts to happen like that. There are things I would like to do that I can’t do. But look… that’s a good problem to have.

Galloway: Do you think people enjoy the live art experience more now than before the pandemic shutdowns?

Blanchard: Like everything else in the world, live music was in a state of uncertainty, with everyone trying to catch up. It’s just a weird time. That was what was cool about being on tour in Europe because everywhere we went, even though it was scary to be around people again, it was also exciting because people really wanted to hang out and love music again. I would say that global public social interaction and live music is so much more appreciated now. After the containment and management of this virus, people seem to be much more aware of their own mortality. The number of people who come to see us after the shows to say “Thank you” with such intense sincerity speaks volumes. The sad thing is that as musicians we lived in a bubble. We didn’t really have the post-show socializing that we used to. The musicians were concerned about protecting Herbie and Herbie was concerned about protecting all of us. We were on a tour bus so if one of us fell it ended the whole tour.

The E-Collective
The E-Collective

Galloway: What made you want to dive into Wayne’s music?

Blanchard: Well, first of all of course, it’s beautiful music… but beautiful in a way that’s different. He’s like the next great composer to me. He knows how to take a simple melody while harmonizing it in such a way that it sounds fresh. He doesn’t do anything where he writes dense harmonies…he’s just smart. Art Blakey used to tell us, “The easiest thing to do is write bullshit that no one can understand. Discover how to connect with people while maintaining these variations where the music becomes yours. That’s what Wayne does. He’s actually trying to touch you…to impact your soul. And it does so by grabbing your attention with familiar melodies that sound so different. It has a lot to do with how he structures melodies and how he uses harmony. God bless him. He is a real treasure.

Galloway: Do you consider Wayne as someone who came out of the gate almost fully formed or are you able to draw an arc of growth?

Blanchard: Both. When I teach composition in school, I use Wayne as an example. I say, “Let’s go back to some of his previous albums,” and we can clearly see that he was developing his ideas then. A lot of times with young songwriters they say something and then all of a sudden they want to try to be that hip. But you won’t even recognize the melody afterwards. It gets away from the very idea of ​​what you want to convey. It’s not about trying to fool the public or prove to them that you’re doing something that complex. It is exactly the opposite. It’s about grabbing them by the hand and taking them on a journey. So how do you do this your way? Wayne is a master at this. Another thing Art used to tell us was, “You never want to be too hip… ‘Because two hips make an ass!’ (big laugh)

Absence album cover
Absence album cover

Galloway: On the new album, one of the songs you wrote is called “I Dare You”. Isn’t that a direct quote from something Wayne said about jazz?

Blanchard: Right. He said, “Jazz stands for: I Dare You!

Galloway: How did you approach this idea musically?

Blanchard: By allowing my heart to speak and not trying to lead it in a specific direction.

Galloway: I remember “The Elders” as the last track on side 1 of Weather Report’s Mr. Gone album and being very ethereal. What did you hear in it?

Blanchard: My pianist Fabian Almazan wanted to do that one and “When It Was Now”, things later in Wayne’s career. We love playing them live because they always go somewhere different every night.

That was the beautiful thing about making this record. Before the session, we went to Wayne’s house and spent some time with him. Well, I had been there before. But some of the guys in the band as well as members of the Turtle Island String Quartet didn’t. One of those things about Wayne is that once you meet Wayne, you understand why his music sounds the way it does. It’s like meeting (Thelonious) Monk. Sometimes you may start to feel totally inadequate in your understanding of a great. “Why can’t I write like that? But once you meet them, you’re like, “Oh, that’s why. What it’s really supposed to make you feel is, “What is this criteria for me that allows me to be different?”

So in making this record, it wasn’t just about making his tracks. With Wayne, he wants to know what you have to say. You have to make a statement.

Galloway: Do you remember the first time you heard Wayne’s music?

Blanchard: I can’t remember the first piece of Wayne that I heard. But I remember playing one with Art Blakey which was “Witch Hunt”. This tune blew me away compositionally. Then I had the chance to meet Wayne when I was with Art at an airport in Spain. Art looks up and says “Ay Wayne” (in perfect squeaky voice impersonation). Wayne turned and approached. We were in shock like, “Oh, shit! What are we doing!?” But he was cool. He talked to Art for a bit and then talked about his business. But then I started working with him at Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz (today Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz) and I really got to know him. Every time I was around him I became so inspired. The way he thinks about the world sticks in your mind. Wayne Shorter is probably the purest soul I have ever met on this planet.

Galloway: What traits appear in his music that you feel when you meet the man?

Blanchard: The true essences of honesty and purity… He is something else. You should hear Herbie talking about him. Going back to the members of my group who met him, when we left they were all in a daze…

And I’m going to share with you one of my experiences with Wayne. One of my daughters and I went for lunch or something. He was in his music room. He has a score sheet in front of him. And he writes his opera from memory… in pen. I’m sitting there looking at it like “OK!”

Galloway: Wow… straight from head to paper, put emphatically in pen.

Blanchard: Yuck!

The Turtle Island String Quartet
The Turtle Island String Quartet

Galloway: So, what can we expect at Tuesday night’s performance?

Blanchard: First of all, I’m lucky to have a very talented group. All avant-garde musicians. Plus, having The Turtle Island String Quartet. They totally redefine what a string quartet is. I keep saying I’m going to do a before and after photo of the audience when I present them. The audience always gives me a look in advance like, “Aw, here we go.” After they heard them, I was like, “Uh-huh…I tried to tell you!” People panic because of them.

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