Last Thursday night I went to the Grammy Museum with Digby and Howie Klein to see the great Terence Blanchard do a Q&A and then play a short concert. It's an incredible venue to see a live event because the sound system is so sweet and with only 200 seats, it's a very intimate setting. I'm a member of NARAS and they often email events they have there but this is the first one I attended. Blanchard just released a new record called "Choices," and he was doing some promotion on his new amazing disc. He plays a magnificent trumpet and was accompanied by bass, piano, drums and a dynamic tenor sax. the record is unique too because it features the spoken words of Dr. Cornell West and he was a major inspiration to Blanchard's latest project.
West, who is a distinguished professor at Princeton, is best known for work that fuses civil rights and anti-war activism with a powerful moral and even religious social critique. Long a hero of progressives, he got into a much-publicized fracas with obtuse corporate shill Lawrence Summers, then serving, inexplicably, as president of Harvard. Asked about his collaboration with Blanchard, West defined Choices as being about "what kind of human being you’re going to be. How are you going to opt for a life of decency and compassion and service and love. What goes into that kind of choice. That’s the human challenge. To be part of this album is an unadulterated joy because no doubt about it, music for me is continuous of life-- to be able to live the kind of life that I live on the certain kind of Socratic calling of raising
unsettling questions. To be able to be in conversation and on an album with Terence Blanchard, that’s serious business... I mean, that’s... that’s a beautiful thing.”
You may know Blanchard's music because he has composed many music scores for Spike Lee including the haunting soundtrack of "When the Levees Broke," which documents the horrors of Hurricane Katrina. The event changed his life and he said something so simple yet so profound. "I didn't choose to be an activist, it chose me."
During Q&A sessions, I usually get bored and start daydreaming until the artist starts playing music, but I was riveted to each answer he gave. Terence is an educator who is the Artistic Director of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz in New Orleans and he answered each question decisively, majestically and honestly. He understands how important it is for an artist to imitate the greats of Jazz, but then develop a personal voice which might be the most difficult taks of all. In his early days, he broke in with Art Blakey and when he tried to play like Miles on "My Funny Valentine," Terence said that Blakey yelled at him. "Miles never played the melody. Play the damn melody." I laughed because Art was famous for that, but was also responsible for adding new voices to his band. He launched many careers in his time and when I used to see Art play in college, the talk was always, "Who's in his band now?"
Blanchard's voice floated through the hall like the mellow tone of a flugelhorn, but with a richness of sound that was magnetic. His passion for music reeled me in and never let me go. I related to his story because of his dedication to teach jazz to a new generation of musicians without the snobbery that sometimes gets passed down by the elder statesman so to speak. His explanations of his approach to teaching and playing that are such a deep and personal nature resonated within me. And then he took the stage and he let his music do the talking from there. It was a delicious treat and we're working on having him come to the LNMC for a live chat with our readers.
After the show my heart was pounding from the experience and I stood outside waiting for Digby to pick me up. When I got in her car a new experience was waiting for me and I'll let her tell you what happened.
I have,sadly, become something of a cynic in my old age and it's not a happy thing to be. The world is darker, inspiration harder to find and humans are constantly disappointing me. But today, my faith in the goodness of human nature was renewed.
Howie Klein asked John Amato and I to an event last night at the Grammy Museum, which is in downtown LA near the Staples center and the convention center. It was a fabulous Q&A and concert with the great Jazz trumpet player Terrance Blanchard and his band. Unfortunately, when I got back in my car after the event I found that my wallet was missing...read on. It has a happy ending.