Monterey Jazz Festival: 50th Anniversary Tour w/ James Moody, Benny Green, Nnenna Freelon, Derrick Hodge, Kendrick Scott
Tues. Feb. 5
Gaillard Municipal Auditorium
77 Calhoun St.
“Ghost of Congo Square” from the album A Tale of God’s Will (A Requiem for Katrina)
“Be-Bop” from the album Live at the 2007 Monterey Jazz Festival
“Time After Time” from the album Live at the 2007 Monterey Jazz Festival
The subject of Hurricane Katrina is serious stuff for New Orleans-based, Grammy-winning jazz trumpet player Terence Blanchard. The failure of those responsible for helping his hometown and the Gulf Coast, both during rescue operations and in the recovery efforts that still inch along at a painfully slow rate, has been front and center in Blanchard’s mind for two years now.
Using his music to help shed light on the entire Katrina tragedy, the horn player recently wrote and performed the music for director Spike Lee’s highly acclaimed HBO documentary, When the Levees Broke. Then Blanchard went a step further by adding to the music used in Lee’s film to create the recently released album, A Tale of God’s Will (A Requiem for Katrina).
“I wanted to expand on it a little bit and go deeper into it and allow the musicians in my band to give their reflections of how they felt about what was going on here,” he says, noting each of his band members contributed a song to the album. “We wanted to have something that would be released that would give us a forum to constantly talk about the city and talk about what was going on. There is a bit of political motivation there as well. I noticed that what most people in New Orleans were scared of was the next natural disaster. Because if one were to occur, we would immediately be thrown off of the radar. And we’re still very far from being close to where we were prior to the hurricane.”
Blanchard’s mother’s home — the house he grew up in — was completely destroyed in the storm. He was away from the city when Katrina hit and watched on television as the number of deaths and the scope of the damage became apparent.
“The first emotion was disbelief,” Blanchard says. “But then you’re angry because you put your trust in people who are supposed to do their jobs.”
Despite the anger, he chose not to let it show through in obvious ways within the music he wrote for the When the Levees Broke series and A Tale of God’s Will. The instrumental pieces are often gentle, their moods running from melancholy to the expected musical expressions of grief. Lovely and dramatic, the music frequently strikes a balance between jazz and classical, as Blanchard expands on the quintet format to include a 40-piece orchestra on several songs.
The kind of stormy or dissonant sounds one might expect are nowhere to be found — and that was Blanchard’s intention.
“I thought that was an easy approach,” he said. “I thought that was more of an obvious musical approach. I wanted people to reflect on New Orleans and reflect on what could happen in any city in this country if we’re not prepared, because the tragedy of Katrina is that it’s not just about New Orleans; it’s about preparedness.”
Blanchard’s sophisticated and thoughtful music comes as no surprise to fans. Although he is only 45, he has ascended to a place where he is considered one of the premier artists in jazz. He began playing piano at age five before adding trumpet in elementary school. His talents soon became apparent, and in high school he was tutored by Ellis Marsalis and Roger Dickerson.
On the recommendation of Ellis Marsalis’ son, Wynton, Blanchard landed a featured role in Art Blakely’s Jazz Messengers in 1983. That served as a launching pad for him to form a quintet with fellow Jazz Messenger David Harrison, and in 1990, start a solo career.
Over the years, though, Blanchard recorded for Sony and Blue Note, and became especially admired for his soundtrack work. He now has more than 40 soundtracks to his credit. He collaborated with Spike Lee on most of that acclaimed director’s films (including Malcolm X, Clockers, and Summer of Sam).
It’s a sign of Blanchard’s standing in the jazz world that he was chosen to be a key participant in the Monterey Jazz Festival’s 50th Anniversary tour, which so far runs through March. The longest continually-running jazz festival in the world, the Monterey Jazz Festival’s national tour highlights six of its most talented musicians, bringing together Blanchard and his own rhythm section of bassist Derrick Hodge and drummer Kendrick Moore with legendary reeds player James Moody, pianist Benny Green, and singer Nnenna Freelon.
Blanchard served as artist in residence for the Monterey Jazz Festival in 2007. He was invited to put together the lineup for the tour by Tim Jackson, general manager of the festival. The six musicians on the tour recorded a performance at the 50th edition of the festival in September — released on disc this month under the collective name of the Monterey Jazz Festival 50th Anniversary Band.
Blanchard says fans can expect to see the musicians perform in several configurations over the course of each evening’s show. “We’re trying to have some variety. Obviously, there are moments where it’s just going to be instrumental and there are moments when Nnenna will sing and Moody will back her up or we’ll feature Moody. It’s going to be various things.”
The music that gets played each night may also change. And Blanchard noted that he doesn’t have a firm set list for the tour. “Some of the things from the Levees albums we may perform. It could change from night to night,” Blanchard says. “I’m looking forward to playing a lot of different things with these guys.”