World-renowned film composer and trumpet player Terence Blanchard was returning from a two-week stint in Japan when Hurricane Katrina struck his New Orleans hometown. Blanchard and his family were forced to evacuate from their New Orleans homes for months, and his evolution as a displace musician fighting for the cultural rebirth his hometown continues to blossom. A portion of Blanchard journey is captured in both the CD and the documentary, “Flow: Living in the Stream of Music,” that follows Blanchard and his band on a stunning round-the-world musical journey. Additionally, director Spike Lee invited Blanchard to score his tour-de-force 4-part documentary, “When the Levees Broke.” One of the most poignant scenes in the film depict Blanchard and his aged mother and aunt clinging to each other during the family’s first post-Katrina visit to their ravage homes. Today, Blanchard says his mother and aunt are on the verge of moving back into their homes, but he is still concerned about the future of his hometown as it struggles to recover from a storm that occurred nearly two years ago.
During a quick studio break on Friday evening from mixing the “Levee” soundtrack he’s re-scoring for release this summer, Blanchard says he is concentrating on keeping a spotlight on the gravity of the new Orleans situation were thousands of residents continue to suffer.
“One of the things that we’re trying to do with the album is keep the awareness out there,” said Blanchard. “When we were recording the record, we did a take of a tune I had written in the New Orleans tradition in 4/5. It was very upbeat kind of song and I was going to close the album with it. But we decided to pull it form the album because we didn’t want to give anybody the impression that everything was okay. You know, because we want people to still talk about what’s going on and be involved in what’s happening.”
Blanchard was a pivotal voice in the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz “Commitment to New Orleans” initiative which includes the relocation of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance to the campus of Loyola University New Orleans from Los Angeles. “The Monk institute has a strong commitment to community service. They have a big outreach program that reaches a lot of high school, middle school and grade school kids. That program in itself will touch the lives of a lot of young kids outside the music world and hopefully will encourage some young musician in the field of jazz. We also told the students to come with a horn in one hand and a hammer in the other cause it’s all about rebuilding the city.”
The Institute’s programs will also provide employment for New Orleans musicians while attracting displaced musicians living in other areas of the country back to their hometown, and unite the city’s jazz, arts, and cultural communities.
“I don’t see the music (in New Orleans) as being lost forever because it’s such a part of our culture,” explained Blanchard. “It’s our DNA; you know, it’s what we’re made of. So I don’t ever really see that as something that’s going to be lost. But I do see (the music scene) taking a huge hit right now because there are a lot of musicians who are just not at home and they’re living elsewhere to make do, and that’s hard. I know some guys who’ve been instrumental in the music scene on New Orleans and they’re not in New Orleans right now. We have to be concerned about that. And there are people making efforts to bring those people back. There’s a lot of work to be done.”
“When it comes to jazz there’s certain cities in certain part of the country that get all the attention, you know, Detroit, New Orleans, Kansas City, New York. But, I went to school at Rutgers University and one of the things I learned is that New Jersey has a vast history with the music. And it gets overlooked a lot one of the pivotal creators of this music. He carved out a new path for the role of the guitar in jazz.
Terence was a featured panelist at this year’s Sundance Film Festival (he will also perform at the upcoming festival in 2007) and served as a keynote speaker at the Billboard Film and Television Music Conference in November. Flow: Living In The Stream of Music is scheduled to screen at various film festivals throughout 2006/2007, and has been touted as an engaging documentation of what it means to commit to a life in music, a landmark educational film for young people — and for anyone of any age facing the uncertain prospect of a career as a musician. “The overriding goal in what we do,” says Blanchard, “is to stop being musicians and start being the music.”