On Tuesday, May 28th jazz trumpet legend Terence Blanchard will be releasing his new record, ‘Magnetic,’ on Blue Note Records featuring saxophonist Brice Winston, pianist Fabian Almazan, bassist Joshua Crumbly and drummer Kendrick Scott as well as special guests Ravi Coltrane, Lionel Loueke, and Ron Carter. From 5/29-6/2 Blanchard and crew will be gracing audiences at the Jazz Standard with live performances of material from the album. We sat down to discuss his process in recording, the importance of young composers, as well as an array of topics in a conversation with the musical titan.
This band has been evolving over the past few years. How did this iteration come about?
This band really evolved over the course of time. Brice has been playing with me for a number of years. Kendrick is the second-longest running member in the group. First we had Aaron Parks and then Fabian came on board. Then Joshua Crumbly is the latest member. I’m always looking for someone who is open and willing to learn, but also someone who is willing to contribute and who isn’t scared to contribute. We need people who truly act upon what they feel.
Did having each musician bring in an original composition become a difficult task on the record?
One of the things we try to encourage is for people to create and write. It sparked this whole movement of young, talented writers. Sometimes the guys are a little apprehensive about writing music for the group, but once they get into it and past that nervousness, they start to learn. Joshua Crumbly is a case where he was a little nervous about writing for the band, but I think he wrote a very beautiful tune. Once Fabian started writing for the band, he was a little nervous, but look at him now—he’s a great composer. The same thing goes for Kendrick and Brice.
It’s not hard to implement. It’s just a matter of giving these guys room and making sure that they have a safe place to create without fear. We are all beneficiaries because of it. They all brought something really great to the project.
Were each of these compositions written specifically for this record?
I think everyone wrote something specifically for the album. The way these guys work, they’re constantly performing and constantly working, so I don’t think any of these compositions were sitting around. A lot of the guys are sparked by being in the moment, so I think these are all brand new.
You’ve composed so much music yourself and it sounds to me like you are very skilled in telling a story with your music. Is that an important skill for composers?
Definitely. That’s what music is supposed to do. It’s supposed to tell a story. If it’s not telling a story, it’s not doing its job. Music is supposed to help us deal with the day-to-day life as Art Blakey used to say. It’s supposed to help us heal, reflect, rejoice, and help us get over times of sorrow. All of those things have to do with telling a story. It helps us deal with our own issues. That’s the goal. If music is just created for the sake of creating music itself, then what’s the need for it?
Do you think your ideology for having these young musicians compose traces back to your days with Art Blakey?
It could be. I’ve never thought of it like that though. Who’s to say, really? That’s the culture that I grew up in, so it probably does have an effect. The thing that I knew about Art is that he always used to say that the way you find yourself is through your writing. So it probably does go back to Art. The more and more I think about it, definitely. He knew that would be the way for us to solidify our particular musical identities.
In addition to the core group, you have Ron Carter, Ravi Coltrane, and Lionel Loueke as special guests on the album. Why those musicians in specific?
Again it kind of evolved over the course of time. I knew I wanted to record with Ravi Coltrane because I knew he had something different to offer. I really fell in love with his last CD—I listen to it like every day. Then Lionel has been recording with me for many years. He’s almost a mainstay in the group even though he’s not in the group anymore.
With Ron Carter, the last couple of times I would come to New York, he would be after me to come out and have dinner and hang out. I’ve always been really nervous about calling him. I ran into him at International Jazz Day and he says, “Stop running from me man! Don’t run now.” That’s why I wrote the tune “Don’t Run,” paying homage to him.
What do you see as special about Ron Carter as a musician?
What’s not special? He’s a legend. He’s a walking legend. He’s one of those guys where you just want to watch everything he does. You want to watch the way he unzips the case for the bass. It’s like, “Oh shit, I never thought about unzipping it that way.” He’s changed the course of music and the growth of the bass. The way he started walking lines with Herbie and everybody he was playing with made people rethink the function of the bass in the jazz ensemble.
You recorded Magnetic at Avatar Studios. Is that somewhere you like to record at?
Oh yeah man! It’s one of those places that they pay attention to getting great sound. There’s a lot of great gear and a lot of great mics. It’s always a joy to work there.
This record also marks a return to Blue Note Records for you. Do you think Blue Note has the potential to become the powerhouse in jazz it once was?
That’s hard to say. I would like to hope that they would. I think that they have the potential to. Look at who they have on the roster. When you have Don Was running the label and this rich history with Bruce Lundvall—they’re poised to be who they are. You have to take your hat off to these guys because they’re not approaching it with a cookie-cutter format. They’re going out and looking at what’s happening on the scene and trying to find some of the most uniquely talented guys in the business.
What do you see as the biggest challenge for young musicians coming up in jazz?
The biggest challenge is finding a label and marketing your product. The days are gone when being on Blue Note, Columbia, or Warner Brothers could really establish a career for a young person. The internet has changed all of that. How do you market you product to a large number of people? It’s something that is still trying to flush itself out. It’s still evolving and it’s still growing. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens. The way I look at it now—the Internet has its great sides and its horrible sides. The great side is that you get everybody access to everything. The horrible side is that there is one central mass place where people will go to check out certain things. I view all of this as still being in its infancy.
With two different projects—your record Magnetic and your jazz-inspired opera Champion—coming out this summer, what’s next?
The opera is dropping June 15 and the album comes out May 28. We want to start performing and touring with it right after the last performance of the opera, which is June 30. Before that though we do have our album release show at the Jazz Standard in New York City. We’ll be performing a week there. The opera has six performances starting June 15 in St. Louis. Then I just got another commission to write a piece that celebrates the end of the Civil War. It’s for the 150th anniversary of the end of the war. The piece will be for a string quartet with a 500-piece choir.
When you’re doing an album release like you are in New York with a week of performances, what changes from performance to performance?
It just depends on how we feel. I know that’s kind of a cop-out answer, but it’s true. The guys will kind of shape things based on what’s going on with them that day. It can run the gamut. Sometimes it can happen where a guy is hearing something on the way to the show or talking about something and the next thing you know it starts to influence what we do rhythmically, melodically, or harmonically. That’s the joy of doing what we do. It doesn’t have to be exactly the same every night. We can bring our own daily experiences to it to help motivate everybody else.
Interview by Eric Sandler (@ericsandler)