Biography

Terence Blanchard stands tall as one of jazz’s most-esteemed trumpeters and defies expectations by creating a spectrum of artistic pursuits.
A twice Oscar-nominated film score writer/arranger (most recently for his Spike Lee collaboration on Da 5 Bloods), he’s also championed as a two-time opera composer whose Fire Shut Up in My Bones opens New York’s Metropolitan Opera 2021-2022 season—the first African American to have an opera at the Met.
In addition, Blanchard teaches as the Kenny Burrell Chair in Jazz Studies at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music.

But there’s a center of gravity. It’s Blanchard’s beautiful, provocative, inspiring jazz recordings that undergird all these projects. The same holds true now as it did early in his career in 1994 when he told DownBeat: “Writing for film is fun, but nothing can beat being a jazz musician, playing a club, playing a concert.”

In his thirtieth year as a recording leader, the six-time GRAMMY winner delivers Absence, a masterwork of sonic zest in collaboration with his longtime E-Collective band and the acclaimed Turtle Island Quartet—led by violinist/artistic director David Balakirshnan and featuring Gabe Terracciano on violin, Benjamin von Gutzeit on viola, and Malcom Parson on cello—a game changer since its founding in 1985 as a group playing hybrid music.
It may seem like an irregular pairing, but Blanchard discovered that the quartet proved a perfect fit. “Obviously I’ve worked with strings in my career,” he says. “But Turtle Island has reimagined the language for the string quartet. It’s extremely unique, and what they do is brilliant. Playing together, it’s like a chamber jazz ensemble.”

Recorded in February 2020 at the Mo Austin Recording Studio at UCLA just before the Covid-19 lockdowns, Absence started out as a project to show gratitude to Wayne Shorter. “I knew that Wayne wasn’t feeling well at the time, so I wanted to honor him to let him know how much he has meant to me,” says Blanchard who today lives in Los Angeles as well as in his native New Orleans.
“When you look at my own writing, you can see how much I’ve learned from Wayne. He mastered writing compositions starting with a simple melody and then juxtaposing it against the harmonies that come from a different place to make it come alive in a different light. That’s what makes the beauty of it. This album is about composition—not just his works but writing our own music to see how much he’s influenced us.”

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As in past E-Collective recordings, Blanchard gives free rein to his synth-inflected ensemble—pianist Fabian Almazan, guitarist Charles Altura, bassist David Ginyard, and drummer Oscar Seaton—to stretch as a band. “I give them the room to explore as arrangers,” says the leader.
“It’s important for the band itself as well as for my own growth to develop new ways of playing other people’s music. The guys do things that I would have never thought. We try to create something unique. With Wayne, we have the chance to learn his music and really absorb it. Then we give our own impressions.”

Absence came together quicker than any of Blanchard’s other projects. He had been in conversation with Turtle Island, which had originally discussed plans for him to arrange a piece for string quartet, but those talks shifted direction. Two weeks later they were all in the studio.

“What made it all so beautiful was that it was for Wayne,” says Blanchard. “He’s a funny dude, silly and brilliant. He has inspired us all. When you think about it, Wayne had come up with John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Sonny Stitt, Johnny Griffin, Cannonball Adderley. He came through all those guys, but he found his own voice, his way of expression. You have to give him credit, not only on his horn but also with the pencil. That’s what makes him such a great jazz artist.”

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  • February 2023

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