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Music and the Creative Spirit

Terence Blanchard: Requiem for Katrina

By Published: January 8, 2009

TB: That's extremely true. That's extremely true because I think life is all about balance. There are those that have a healthy respect for tradition and become stuck in tradition and there are those that have this desire to move forward, but are supplemented by a strong foundation. I have been fortunate to have played with some great musicians who had great foundations in music but also were extremely creative.

I recently watched this documentary on YouTube of a performance that I did with Jay McShann years ago in Paris. There were a lot of other great musicians on that gig like Benny Carter

Benny Carter
Benny Carter
1907 - 2003
sax, alto
, Clark Terry
Clark Terry
Clark Terry
b.1920
trumpet
, Mel Lewis
Mel Lewis
Mel Lewis
1929 - 1990
drums
, Jimmy Heath
Jimmy Heath
Jimmy Heath
b.1926
sax, tenor
and Phil Woods
Phil Woods
Phil Woods
b.1931
sax, alto
. But what I remember most was not the music, but how those guys were talking about the music in the dressing room with a certain type of passion. And I said to myself, that's why they were the innovators of their time and that's why those guys are still great musicians. And now, I am working with Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
b.1940
piano
and Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter
b.1933
saxophone
who have the same type of drive and desire. There is nothing that is off limits. And you can tell that they had to limit themselves at the beginning of their development in order to help develop their craft. So there has to be this balance of being fundamentally sound but also not being afraid to go into areas that you have never walked into before.

AAJ: Art always seems to be going into the unknown, bringing the tradition with it.

TB: Yes, yes. It's like going on faith. There is an analogy that is very striking that says you can drive from New Orleans to Los Angeles on a dark highway at night and as long as the lights are on, you can see 100 yards in front of you and you are confident that you are going to be OK even though you don't necessarily know where you are going. (Laughs).

AAJ: One of the areas that separate creative artists from good musicians is that most are interested in the answers, but artists are more interested in the questions, in the search itself. I hear this in your work. Are you still in a process of discovery?

TB: Oh yeah, of course. And sometimes it is not even a discovery. Sometimes you are going along for the ride just like the listener because the music can take on a life of its own. If you are truly humble and sacrifice yourself and allow yourself to surrender to the music, it will take you to places that you have never thought of. And that's what I mean about being in a car at night and having to go on faith. You have to go on faith because when you want to see the whole road from beginning to end, it becomes boring. It's boring because you are making no room for error. I tell my students that if you make love like that to your girlfriend, where you do the same thing every night, pretty soon you are not going to have a girlfriend. (Laughs).

AAJ: That puts everything into perspective.

TB: And it's funny, because that is an analogy that most people can readily understand. Because how many times have you started making love and all of the sudden that process took you into areas where you never thought you would be? (Laughs).

AAJ: That is an enlightening statement.

TB: But it's true and you know what I am saying right?

And that's the thing that I love about music. You start out and say: let's see what's happening. Then at the end, you're going: Oh damn, how did we get here?

AAJ: I also find that the great artists do not seem to separate life and music. They bring it together and you cannot tell where one ends and the other begins. The love and commitment is always there. What has influenced you to this degree?

TB: Thank you. You can't separate it because if you think about it, what is the purpose of music? If it's just a numerical logical exercise, then it's pointless. You have to separate the differences between craft and creativity. Craft gets people mired into so much and then the creativity just goes by them. When I listen to Louis Armstrong and I hear a killin' solo, I can go back and look at the craft and say it was this and it was that. But that didn't put the life force into it. Life has to be a part of your art. Herbie did an interview years ago where he said, "I'm trying to be a better father and a better husband." And when I heard that, I went wow! And that's because he was my hero. So I said: OK, this dude has a life and he is concerned with his family. He is concerned with things not about music and then you start to understand that that is what propels it.

AAJ: But very few musicians are able to get to the artistic level where you are actually able to take your life and make it a part of what you are expressing. Most are just playing the notes or are happy just to be able to put something together. So what is it that has influenced you to the degree that you are able to express this passion of who you are?



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