When Terence Blanchard plays his headlining set at Birmingham’s Community House Jazzfest on Saturday, he’ll come not just as a well-credentialed musician and composer, but also as an ambassador for his native New Orleans — especially in the wake of the Hurricane Katrina devastation.
“People are compassionate and inquisitive; everyone wants to know what’s going in New Orleans,” notes Blanchard, 45, a pianist who began his career as Wynton Marsalis’ replacement in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers before beginning his solo career in 1990.
“We’re all taking the role of trying to not only be artists but also be distributors of information about the city. We need to continue the story and maintain this level of conversation.”
Blanchard is doing that with his music as well as his mouth. He composed score music for Spike Lee’s acclaimed documentary “When the Levees Broke,” which contains a particularly emotional segment in which Blanchard’s mother returns to her destroyed home in the city. And Blanchard’s new album, “A Tale of God’s Will (A Requiem for Katrina),” which comes out Aug. 14, continues that musical dialogue.
“The whole event was so massive, man,” says Blanchard, who was teaching at the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz in Los Angeles and got his wife and four children out of New Orleans just before the hurricane hit. The family has subsequently returned to the city.
“We had been doing music for Spike’s documentary, and we had all this material we could use. What we did was just take those themes and rearranged them for orchestra. Usually when I write for an orchestra, it’s mostly for someone else’s situation, so this time I got a chance to bring all my experience together and create a sound for something of my own.”
The other members of Blanchard’s quintet also weighed in, composing their own pieces for the album — and also keeping an eye on their band leader.
“The record was reliving the whole thing for me in a lot of regards, of course,” Blanchard notes. “The guys kept asking me, ‘Are you OK?’
“I was listening to the playbacks with a dual purpose. I listened ’cause I wanted to hear the performances, but at the same time it put me back in that space, stories friends told me they endured.
“I’m not gonna lie to you; it was hard.”
Blanchard, who also scored the new Don Cheadle film “Talk to Me,” doesn’t have any other recording project lined up. Right now, he says, he’s “just chillin’, playing with the band,” and trying to cause some chills in his audience’s consciousness with his New Orleans-inspired music.
“I definitely feel that the world in general vibrates on New Orleans in a different manner,” Blanchard says, “because of the tragedy and because of what New Orleans has given the world in terms of music and culture, art in general.
“Herbie Hancock said to me that New Orleans has been the soul of the United States for years. I never thought about it like that until he said it, but it makes sense. And that’s why we have to stay out here and tell the story.”
The 15th annual Community House Jazzfest takes place Thursday through Saturday (July 19th-21st)in downtown Birming ham’s Shain Park. All performances are free. Call (248) 433-3378 or go online to www.communityhouse.com.
7:30 p.m. — Alexander Zonjic & Friends with the Motor City Horns
6:30 p.m. — DSO Civic Jazz Ensemble
8 p.m. — Hot Club of Detroit
9:30 p.m. — Joyce Cooling
1 p.m. — Gary Schunk Trio
2:30 p.m. — Johnnie Bassett & The Blues Insurgents featuring Lady Sunshine and Leonardo
4 p.m. — Ken Navarro
5:45 p.m. — David McMurray
7:30 p.m. — Terence Blanchard
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