Last September, while New Orleans native and award-winning jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard was out touring in support of his latest album Choices, he and his group stopped by for a visit to the Tavis Smiley Show. They played two selections from the album: the title track and “A New World,” a performance you can catch further on in this post.
This wasn’t just another promotional talk show appearance in support of a musician’s latest album. Blanchard is one our greatest proponents of jazz. He’s both a link to tradition and a vital teacher and leader by example for up-and-coming players as jazz moves towards its future. Blanchard often uses his music to make important statements on the issues of the day. Tavis Smiley has always been a strong promoter of jazz and jazz musicians and is known to use the art of the interview as a tool for social enlightenment. This segment gives us a glimpse at how jazz can invigorate social commentary and how the infusion of social commentary into jazz music can drive jazz long into the future.
Smiley’s interview with Blanchard takes us from Blanchard’s New Orleans upbringing through his personal and professional reactions to hurricane Katrina and into his latest album Choices, where he uses the spontaneous spoken words of Dr. Cornel West to inspire his music and inform his audience. West implores us to lead lives of courage, compassion, and service, and now his message has a novel way of reaching an audience — through Blanchard’s recordings and performances.
Choices is just the latest in a long line of Blanchard’s socially-conscious endeavors, many centered on his home town of New Orleans. He placed his sorrow, rage, beautiful score and performances into long-time collaborator Spike Lee’s documentary on New Orleans after Katrina, When the Levees Broke – A Requiem In Four Acts. Blanchard has scored all of Lee’s films since 1991.
He’s also the artistic director of and teaches master classes for the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, which recently moved from its first home at the University of Southern California to Loyola University in New Orleans. The Institute is a big part of New Orleans’ ongoing rebirth and resurrection post-Katrina.
As a jazz fan, I’m really excited to see and hear Blanchard teaching, hiring, and inspiring the next generations of jazz musicians. And I’m thrilled to see him collaborating with Dr. Cornel West as well as Spike Lee, because merging jazz and social commentary might well serve to revitalize the music and keep it healthy.
Watch and listen to Terence Blanchard and just four of the musicians he’s hired and inspired down the years as they perform “Choices” and “A New World.”
The Tavis Smiley Show
4 September 2009
“Choices” and “A New World” 10:04