When director Spike Lee decided to document the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, he knew he could rely on one composer to accept the challenge of crafting music for the epic project - New Orleans-born trumpet virtuoso Terence Blanchard.
Besides scoring "When the Levees Broke," Blanchard appeared in front of the camera in one of the film's most poignant scenes, escorting his elderly mother during a visit to her destroyed home for the first time.
That experience inspired Blanchard to record one of the greatest jazz albums of the 21st century - the astonishing, Grammy-winning "A Tale of God's Will (A Requiem for Katrina)."
“The overriding goal in what we do is to stop being musicians and start being the music.”
- Terence Blanchard in the documentary “Flow – Living in the Stream of Music”
Robert Cazimero performs in Solo Sessions at the MACC.
Profoundly moving, it opens with the haunting "Ghost of Congo Square" (where slaves were publicly hung), pays respect to the dead with "Funeral Dirge," offers solace with a "Mantra" for healing and renewal and closes with "Dear Mom," and homage to his mother's strength.
"An ambitious and brilliantly executed album, it employs the sonic grandeur of the 40-piece Northwest Sinfonia to convey the magnitude of the devastation Hurricane Katrina wreaked on New Orleans," noted an Allaboutjazz review.
"It was probably the most difficult artistic project that I've ever been associated with," Blanchard told NPR in 2007.
* Terence Blanchard performs at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the Maui Arts & Cultural Center's Yokouchi Pavilion/ Courtyard. Blanchard's band features Brice Winston on tenor sax, Fabian Almazan on piano, Joshua Crumbly on bass, and Kendrick Scott on drums. Tickets are $35 in advance and $40 day of show (plus applicable fees), available from the MACC box office, 242-7469 or www.mauiarts.org.
"We are living in very turbulent times right now and there is going to be a need for listeners to be able to find solace and peace," he said in an Allaboutjazz interview. "So at times music or art needs to help dissipate the anger. And the reason people resonate with 'A Tale of God's Will' is because I'm playing what people are feeling. There is no magic. I'm only playing with the same type of outrage, empathy and compassion that the average person has seen towards this situation."
One of the most influential jazz players of our time, Blanchard balances careers as a popular soundtrack composer and a revered band leader.
Reviewing Blanchard's performance at this year's New Orleans Jazz Fest, The Times-Picayune praised: "The 49-year-old New Orleanian claimed his place as a modern master with a performance that overflowed with emotion and narrative drive, a wild risk-taking performance in which he transcended his reputation as a polished technician, workhorse film composer and seasoned bandleader."
Routinely lauded for his brilliant playing, Blanchard grew up in the cultural nexus of New Orleans absorbing the city's myriad musical influences.
"The thing about growing up in New Orleans is that there's so many different styles of music that's being played that are actually part of the New Orleans sound that you don't even realize it until you grow up," Blanchard told Jazz Monthly. "You never really realize how vast it is until you actually start to talk about it and start to have to explain it to people. The thing about it that was great for us is that being a jazz musician hearing all of those sounds or all of those styles and then going home and listening to Miles Davis, one could readily hear that there was an evolution in the music, that it wasn't this kind of stagnant thing. And we were a part of the continuum, and it was very encumbered upon us to take things to the next level."
Blanchard began playing trumpet in 4th grade after hearing a demonstration of New Orleans jazz. His studies continued at the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts, where he hung out with Wynton and Branford Marsalis. While later studying at Rutgers University, he began playing with Lionel Hampton, and then joined legendary drummer Art Blakey's band in 1982.
"It was like going to school," he recalled in Jazz Weekly. "It was like going to graduate finishing school."
Blanchard soon became the musical director of Blakey's Jazz Messengers, and then eventually left to pursue a solo career, which included scoring films.
With more than 50 scores to his credit, Blanchard is the most prolific jazz musician to ever compose for movies. Entertainment Weekly proclaimed him: "central to a general resurgence of jazz composition for film."
Beginning with "Mo' Better Blues," he has composed the score for every Spike Lee film since 1991, including "Malcolm X," "Clockers," "Summer of Sam," "25th Hour," "Inside Man" and the Katrina documentary, "When the Levees Broke" for HBO.
"Composing for film just happened," he reported. "Spike heard me playing piano one day, and asked me what I was playing and asked me to orchestrate the piece for 'Mo' Better Blues.' Months later I got a call asking me to do the score for 'Jungle Fever.' "
Most recently he was invited compose the score for the forthcoming George Lucas-produced film "Red Tails," about the legendary African-American World War II pilots named The Tuskegee Airmen. He is currently at work on the music for the Broadway remake of "A Streetcar Named Desire," and has been commissioned by the Opera St. Louis for a project that will premiere in 2012.
Blanchard followed his extraordinary "Requiem for Katrina" with another equally ambitious project, "Choices," released in 2009.
"I got to thinking about the choices we citizens of New Orleans had made in electing officials that allowed our levees to breach," he told Body & Soul. "So, while my last album was dealing with aftermath and chronicling the destructive effects of Hurricane Katrina, I wanted this record to spark a debate about the choices we made then that put us in that predicament, and the positive choices we're making today that are gonna help make New Orleans a better place."
Throughout the album, Blanchard wove incisive comments by philosopher/activist Dr. Cornel West.
In "Winding Roads," West affirms: "It takes courage to love, it takes courage to have faith, it takes courage to hope. Courage is crucial, and I can't conceive of a great musician who has not explored the highest levels of courageous engagement in their craft. That's what greatness is, it's a courage to go to the edge of life's abyss, to step out on nothing, and still think you're going to land on something."
For his most recent recording project, "Chano y Dizzy," released this month, Blanchard teamed with conga great Pancho Sanchez for a tribute to two of the primary architects of Latin jazz - Chano Pozo and Dizzy Gillespie.
Ever innovative, Blanchard told the Santa Barbara Independent: "Innovation is the tradition of jazz, and it takes more than just being able to improvise. You have to find your own sound, your own rhythms and tonal colors, and you have to make them new. Just regurgitating musical ideas and repeating an old arrangement - that's not being true to the tradition of jazz. In jazz, the tradition is a constant search for something new."
When he's not playing stand-up bass with the Brothers Cazimero, Robert Cazimero gravitates to the instrument he most treasures - the piano.
At 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the MACC's McCoy Studio Theater, Robert will regale us with an enchanting evening of storytelling, hula and song played on a grand piano.
This multi-award-winning musician and kumu hula of Halau Na Kamalei O Lililehua recently released a solo piano/vocal album, "Hula."
The wonderful CD captures his joy (and gorgeous vocals) interpreting some of his favorite music for hula, spanning songs by Helen Desha Beamer ("Keawaki") and Robert Alex Anderson ("Lovely Hula Hands") to the traditional "Haole Hula" and the Caz original "Na'u Ho'okahi and
"In my life, I've been lucky enough to learn from the best; to dance on stage; to teach this remarkable art form and to be rewarded in both tangible and intangible ways for dedicating a big part of my life to hula," Robert writes in the CD liner notes.
* Tickets to Solo Sessions with Robert Cazimero are $25 for standard seating and $45 for VIP seating, which includes a meet-and-greet after the show (plus applicable fees), available as above.
U.K. dub legend Mad Professor returns to our shores to undoubtedly pack Casanova for a "Dubapalooza" night on Friday beginning at 9:30 p.m.
Over the years the Professor has remixed music by Sade, Depeche Mode, Jamiroqui, Massive Attack and Perry Farrell, and worked with reggae artists like Sly & Robbie, Pato Banton and Maui's Marty Dread. His albums include "Method to the Madness," "Under the Spell of Dub" and "The Dubs That Time Forgot."
"Legendary U.K. dub colossus the Mad Professor came to Wellington and whipped up a dancehall reggae storm," raved a review in New Zealand's The Evening Post.
The bill also features Joe Ariwa and Marty Dread, who just released the album "It Sometimes Rains in Paradise," which includes a cool cover of Edie Brickell's "What I Am."
Marty recently played Colorado's annual Reggae on the Rocks fest with headliners like Inner Circle and Black Uhuru's Michael Rose, and was a big hit.
"Marty Dread was undoubtedly the most notable performance of the day," praised a review. "Marty's mellow aloha demeanor and one-loving vibe hooked the Rocks' massive and had them reeling from set beginning to set end."
California-based kirtan singers Govindas & Radha head to the Temple of Peace in Haiku at 7 p.m. Sunday.
Founders of Bhakti Yoga Shala in Santa Monica, the husband-and- wife team create an entrancing sound on CDs like "Waves of Love" and the beguiling "Light Inside You," where they manage to make familiar chants sound unique.
"Govindas' kirtan flows like a waterfall of raw emotion, his sweetness and passion permeating every chant," notes Jai Uttal.
Admission is $10.