Art can serve as a refuge from everyday life. But there are times when it reflects and comments the perils of reality. Multiple Grammy-winning trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard‘s newest release, Breathless, is one of those works of art that comments and reflects upon the times of today rather than serving as an escape from reality. Backed by his E-Collective comprising of Charles Altura on guitar, pianist Fabian Almazan, bassist Donald Ramsey and Oscar Seaton on the kit, Breathless is a 13-track statement piece referencing the late Eric Garner’s cry: “I Can’t Breathe.”
Revive: Congratulations on the new record. It’s a little different from your previous albums. What would you say to fans who are familiar with your work regarding this particular project?
Terence Blanchard: It’s a departure. This is something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time and it’s something that I was interested in doing eight years ago.
R: How did you come about putting this particular band together?
TB: Oscar Seaton is a friend of mine who I’ve known for a couple of years. We started talking about doing something like this years ago. Donald Ramsey is someone that I went to high school with; I started talking to him about doing something during a separate situation, right around the same time that I started talking to Oscar. So these are guys that I’ve had long-standing relationships with. Charles Altura is just a person that I’ve recently found out about and heard about. I fell in love with his playing immediately when I heard him.
R: Let’s talk about the title track “Breathless” and how that relates to Eric Garner.
TB: We went on tour last fall in Europe for about three weeks when we first put the band together. The whole idea behind the music is to hopefully change the hearts and minds about what’s going on with African American as well as Latino youth and the how they’re treated by law enforcement in this country.
People have been asking me whether it will create a dialogue, but I don’t want it to create a dialogue. We’ve talked too much about this. It’s time for laws and policy to change. It’s time for people to go jail for wrongdoing. It’s time for people who know what’s right to stand up for what’s right and stand against what’s wrong. It’s just that simple.
The general public is not stupid. There’s too many people and instances where people have lost their lives and law enforcement has sat down and tried to justify it all. Well, that has to stop. If it doesn’t stop, something dangerous and something catastrophic can happen.
The tune “See Me As I Am” screams for people to be seen as human. That’s the entire idea behind it. That’s the reason why these things happen. The guy that was shot in South Carolina in the back as he was running away, he was a Naval Coast Guard just like the guy who shot him. The guy who shot him didn’t see that, he didn’t see a human being. He saw something that was “other.” That has to stop.
It’s not going to stop by us asking it to stop. It’s going to stop by people paying the consequence for their actions. It’s going to stop when people go to jail. That’s when it’s going to stop.
R: Do you think it’s the responsibility for artists who have a platform to speak about this?
TB: Not necessarily. Everybody plays a role and everyone has their own thing that they have to do. I don’t put that responsibility on everybody. I just believe, for me personally, that my art – or art in general – has to reflect the environment that it was created in. Our environment is not totally made up of these instances, so I wouldn’t want everyone to feel the need to sit down and deal with these issues.
R: Dr. Cornel West makes an appearance in this album like he did for ‘Choices.’
TB: I had a conversation with Dr. West about these topics many years ago. A lot of it had to deal with about the choices we have to make and the consequences that we have to deal with about those choices. So we have to make better choices to make a better society. In the midst of that conversation, which was an hour long, I found this clip that I thought related directly to what we were talking about.
Dr. West has always been great about me using his material from this particular conversation, so I thought it would be appropriate to put in the tune, “Talk To Me.”
R: Who is the spoken word artist in “Breathless?”
TB: That’s my son.
R: He wrote “Shutting Down” as well didn’t he?
TB: Yes. He’s been working on music for his own album; he’s not signed yet. When I heard the tune, I told him, “I would love to record that tune.” I already spoke to PJ Morton about performing on the album, so I asked PJ if he wouldn’t mind singing the tune. PJ loved the tune and my son loves PJ – he’s one of his favorite artist. So it was a win-win for everybody.
R: PJ Morton is also the keyboardist and producer for Maroon 5. What was about PJ that made you include him in this project?
TB: I’ve known PJ for a while. I’ve known PJ for a number of years. I met him when he was still in New Orleans. He sent me some of his stuff to listen to back then and I thought he would have been the perfect fit for this. He’s a young talent with a great voice and a great moral character. He’s a person who stands up for a lot of the same things we’re standing up for in this particular project.