Interview: Terence Blanchard
Tue, 15 Jan 2008 12:15:09
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Like many residents, New Orleans' native son Terence Blanchard suffered tremendous loss at the hands of Hurricane Katrina. Having worked on a number of Spike Lee film scores prior to the disaster, he was the perfect choice to provide the music for Lee's heartbreaking documentary of the event, When The Levees Broke. The trumpet maestro crafted a haunting backdrop that captured the despair of the moment and helped shine a light on the hope beneath the surface.
With the score complete, Blanchard chose to delve further still into the musical heart of the incident, recording the album A Tale of God's Will (A Requiem For Katrina) with his quintet and the Northwest Sinfonia, a 40-member string orchestra. The expanded document serves as a sonic re-creation of the tragedy, first washing over the listener with overwhelming sadness before clearing way as musical themes of rebirth and reclamation grab hold. ARTISTdirect spoke with the jazz man about his intentions for the album, his thoughts on the situation and his hopes for the future.
I read that you worked with Spike Lee on scoring a lot of films in the past, how soon after Katrina did you talk to him about doing something for When The Levees Broke?
Well, we were doing the music to Inside Man, and he came up to me and started talking about When The Levees Broke so I knew that automatically I would be doing the music to it.
For a lot of people outside New Orleans, Katrina might not have a lot of context in the history of the city and how it was built, but you've got tracks on there like "Ghost of Betsy" and "Ghost of 1927" that reference other natural disasters that happened there. Do you think that it helps for people to frame it in that context?
Yeah, I think it gives some historical context to what happened here in New Orleans this time. I mean, we have had some devastating floods in the past, and the whole purpose behind me doing it was to show how we haven't learned our lesson, you know? How we haven't protected ourselves from the disasters in the future like this occurring. I mean, when I go to Europe, I go to Amsterdam, those places have had experiences and have built their levee systems to the point where they could withstand a one-in-one-thousand year event.
So they really have taken it seriously and done what they needed to do. The album title is A Tale of God's Will. God has the power to create and destroy, and obviously the signs of destruction are apparent in New Orleans. Have you seen any signs of creation that have come from this?
Yeah, let me tell you a funny story. I went to the Lower Ninth Ward about four or five months after the hurricane, and the Lower Ninth Ward was totally destroyed; there was devastation everywhere. But, one of the things that we saw really blew us awaythere were collared greens growing all over the area. Some seeds must have been spread all across the neighborhood in some form or fashion, and by the time that we gotten there they were growing up all over the neighborhood. So, that was a beautiful signto see signs of life in an area that was totally devastated. Now, the development of the city is very slow, but you see people rebuilding their homes. You see people rebuilding their lives, and you can tell there is a certain desirea large amount of desirefor people to come home. It's still nowhere close to the amount of recovery that we thought we would see by now, but it hasn't slowed down, that's the thing. While it's still at a snail's pace, it's moving forward.
Seeing a place that means so much to youa place where you spent so much timedevastated has got to change you as a person. Do you think that going through this has informed your music and how you are going to approach making music going forward?
It's hard to say man, because the event itself was so vast and so massive. We're still just trying to take it all in and put it in perspectiveor put it into contextbecause we're still having experiences based on the hurricane that are new to us. For example, the other day we had a hard rain in the city and lots of portions of the city flooded. Granted, it was maybe a foot and half of water, but still. I mean, we have a long way to go, you know? So trying to put it into musical context is kind of hard still. I'm still getting accustomed to the fact that the city was destroyed and we are trying to rebuild our lives and rebuild our culture here. I think in the future you are going to see it more from the younger people that have gone through this. I think if you monitor the young talent that is going to be coming out of this city, who are probably young teenagers right now, I think you'll probably see more of it through their eyes than our eyes. Frankly, because a lot of those kids stayed here, and a lot of the kids went through the flood and had some very devastating experiences.
That makes a lot of sense. Listening to a lot of the songs and the total span of the album, I feel like it's got a real ebb and flowsort of like the tide. Can you describe the arc of the album and what you saw when you put it together?
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