Born March 13, 1962, in New Orleans, LA; son of Joseph Oliver Blanchard (insurance company manager and part-time opera singer). Education: Studied under Ellis Marsalis at New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (NOCCA); studied under jazz trumpeter Paul Jeffrey and classical trumpeter Bill Fielder at Rutgers University, 1980-82. Addresses: Record company--Columbia Records, 51 West 52nd St., New York, NY 10019.

Terence Blanchard may be most widely known for his work composing music for director Spike Lee's films, but his deepest love remains with his own jazz trumpeting. When Blanchard rearranged his score for Lee's 1992 film, Malcolm X, into The Malcolm X Jazz Suite for his own quintet in 1993, Washington Post reviewer Geoffrey Himes called the album "extraordinary, landmark" and esteemed Blanchard as "[Wynton] Marsalis's only real rival as a modern composer of jazz suites in the Ellington mode." Then in 1994, Down Beat's Michael Bourne deemed In My Solitude: The Billie Holiday Songbook Blanchard's "most heartfelt album." This flurry of success in the early to mid-1990s followed a steady rise from Blanchard's New Orleans roots to his years starting in 1982 with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers in New York and through his playing and recording in the late 1980s with fellow Jazz Messenger Donald Harrison.

In 1989 Blanchard's career was well underway, but he met with a nearly critical crisis. The trumpeter had been mistakenly placing his lips over his teeth instead of in front of them in forming his embouchure, his physical connection to his instrument. This caused a lip injury that led to a one-year hiatus from the trumpet. Frustrated in the midst of growing success, Blanchard would have to relearn his fundamental technique in proper form after his lips had a chance to heal.

Blanchard made it through the ordeal and emerged a leader on the jazz scene. He credited his father with teaching him the patience and wherewithal to overcome deep frustrations in his career--both in retraining himself through his crisis and in maintaining his inspiration during some longer tours on the road. Joseph Oliver Blanchard instilled discipline and determination into his son at a young age. The elder Blanchard was an insurance company manager and part-time opera singer in New Orleans who maintained his passion for music despite a racial stigma that precluded him from singing full time.

When at age five the young Blanchard began picking up TV show themes such as Batman on his grandmother's piano, Blanchard's father brought a piano home and hired a teacher for his son. Then he watched him practice. "He would actually sit there while I practiced," Terence recalled for Wayne K. Self in Down Beat in 1992. "He'd sit on the couch and listen until I got it straight. If I made a mistake, he would stop me and say, 'Go back; go back. Do it again; you've got to get it right.' I hated it; I hated it with a passion."

If his father introduced him to music and taught him aspects of character to stead him well in his art, then Blanchard's experience with legendary teachers of jazz developed his love for the trumpet into a striking ability. First, Blanchard studied with Ellis Marsalis at the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (NOCCA). Ellis Marsalis, father of Branford and Wynton Marsalis, introduced the trumpeter to the sounds of Clifford Brown, Miles Davis, Bird, and John Coltrane, all of whom would become influences on Blanchard's playing. Meanwhile, Blanchard continued his classical studies and played around town--in the New Orleans Civic Orchestra, in Sunday afternoon Dixieland gigs, and subbing for a big band at the Blue Room.

In 1980 Blanchard went to New York and studied classical and jazz trumpet at Rutgers University on a scholarship. The head of the jazz program there, Paul Jeffrey, connected Blanchard with the Lionel Hampton band. Blanchard played on the road with Hamp on the weekends while a Rutgers student for two years. Then Wynton Marsalis called Blanchard and fellow NOCCA grad Donald Harrison about taking his place in Art Blakey's band in New York. "We auditioned in the band at Fat Tuesday's," Blanchard told Michael Bourne of Down Beat. "One night we played a whole set while Wynton and Branford sat in the back. And then Art said, 'You're a Jazz Messenger now.'"

Blakey immediately urged Blanchard to develop his own style. "I used to come in and try to play like Miles Davis or Clifford Brown," Blanchard told Scott Aiges of the New Orleans Times-Picayune. "I remember I was playing 'My Funny Valentine' and he said, 'Look, you got to stop doing that, man. You got to pick a ballad that you can make your own and work on your own style and your own sound. Miles did that already. He put his stamp on it.'" With that insistence, Blanchard first imagined himself as a jazz leader. "And when he said that it was like, damn, I wouldn't even put my name in the same breath as Miles Davis or Clifford Brown, but he made me understand that I can have my own identity." One year after joining Blakey's band, Blanchard became musical director and had contributed some tunes of his own to the band's repertoire.

After four years with Blakey's band, Blanchard and Harrison set out in 1986 with their own quintet and recorded five albums, starting with New York Second Line in their first year. Blanchard had also worked on the soundtracks for the Spike Lee films School Daze, Do the Right Thing, and Mo' Better Blues before breaking with Harrison and signing on to Columbia with his own quintet in 1990. Blanchard's first two albums as a leader--Terence Blanchard, with Branford Marsalis and others in 1991, and Simply Stated in 1992--generated basically positive, although not glowing, reviews. Blanchard attributed that tepid recognition to logistical problems with his Columbia contract and to juggling studio schedules while working on Lee's film Jungle Fever.

With his next album, The Malcolm X Jazz Suite, culled and translated from the best of his soundtrack for Lee's film Malcolm X, Blanchard achieved broad and deep recognition for succeeding in a bold and ambitious project. A New York Times review by jazz writer K. Leander Williams included sympathetic comparisons to the legendary Duke Ellington. Both brought heightened force and energy to the extended suite form--a form which in 1943 with Ellington's Black, Brown and Beige Suite shifted jazz from a kind of popular music only to an art music as well. "Like the extended compositions of Ellington's later years," Williams wrote, "Mr. Blanchard's suite has succeeded in creating music that, while illuminated by his players, is indelibly shaped by its composer."

In the 1990s Blanchard remained as busy as ever. He continued to score soundtracks for Spike Lee movies, including 1994's Crooklyn, and contributed to other film soundtracks, such as Sugar Hill, Inkwell, Trial by Jury, Housesitter, and BackBeat. Entertainment Weekly considered Blanchard central to a general resurgence of jazz composition for film. Meanwhile, Blanchard recorded another bold album, In My Solitude: The Billie Holiday Songbook, for Columbia in 1994. Blanchard's deepest love remained with playing his trumpet, both in recording and especially live. "Writing for film is fun, but nothing can beat being a jazz musician, playing a club, playing a concert," Blanchard was quoted as saying in Down Beat in 1994. "When I stood next to Sonny Rollins at Carnegie Hall last fall and listened to him play, that was it for me.... You could've shot me and killed me right there, and I would've been happy."

by Nicholas Patti

Terence Blanchard's Career

Trumpet player with New Orleans Civic Orchestra, in Dixieland gigs, and with big bands at the Blue Room in New Orleans, late 1970s; with Lionel Hampton's band, 1980-82; with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, 1982-86, as musical director, 1983-86; with Donald Harrison in a quintet, 1986-90; founder and leader of Terence Blanchard Quintet, beginning in 1990; performed concerts at Equitable Center, JVC Jazz Festival, New York, 1991; Orpheum Theater, New Orleans, and Jazz Tent, New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, 1992; with Sonny Rollins, Carnegie Hall, 1993; as leader, Jazz at Lincoln Center, 1993; with Terence Blanchard Quintet, Village Vanguard, New York, 1993; and at Jazz Showcase, Chicago, 1994; has also played internationally; performed trumpet music for films; composer of soundtracks and music for films.

Famous Works

Recent Updates

August 5, 2003: Blanchard's album, Bounce, is released. Source: Yahoo! Shopping,, August 8, 2003.

Further Reading


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