Jazz fanatics who love hard-bopping trumpet have been counting the days until Oct. 21, when Terence Blanchard unpacks his horn at the Wisconsin Union Theater in an Isthmus Jazz Series event. But you don't have to be a jazz fiend to be entranced by Blanchard's compositions. Fact is, you're sure to have already experienced his urgent sound. It can be heard in over 50 feature films, including Spike Lee's Malcolm X.
More recently Blanchard, a New Orleans native, transformed the death and destruction of Hurricane Katrina into artistic expressions as important as any historical document. In 2006 he scored Lee's four-hour HBO documentary When the Levees Broke. In 2007 he won his third of five Grammy Awards for A Tale of God's Will: A Requiem for Katrina.
Blanchard is a restless soul. His career is like a jazz chart, filled with unseen turns, twists and handoffs. He recently made his Broadway debut in Scott Rudin's production of Motherf**ker with the Hat, starring Chris Rock. Even as he tours, he's writing the score for the forthcoming Broadway revival of A Streetcar Named Desire. Opera St. Louis commissioned him to write an original opera based on the life of boxing legend Emile Griffith. It will premiere next year.
All that would be plenty. But Blanchard also has a passion for teaching. He relocated the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz from Los Angeles to New Orleans, where he teaches arranging, composition and artistic development. He's artistic director of the Henry Mancini Institute at the University of Miami School of Music. He's also the artistic director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.
The 49-year-old began playing piano at age 8. Blanchard's father, a New Orleans insurance salesman who loved opera, grew tired of his young keyboardist pounding out TV theme songs like Batman. He ordered him to take lessons and join the school band, where Blanchard picked up his first trumpet. Though he joined the marching band, he grew weary with the music program at his Catholic school. By high school, he was studying under Ellis Marsalis at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts.
Touring with his current quintet appears to have reawakened Blanchard's love of making live music. He's deep into Afro-fusion now. An intense performer, Blanchard was, as one reviewer put it, "ubiquitous" at last month's Monterey Jazz Festival. Expect the same generous, dazzling attack in Madison, where he's sure to take his ensemble - and his audience - back to school.