In 1966 in an interview with jazz writer and historian Frank Kofsky, John Coltrane responds to this question on social issues, "Do you find in your own groups or among musicians you're friendly with that these issues are important and that you do talk about them?" Trane states, "Oh, they're definitely important; and as I said, the issues are part of what is at this time. So naturally, as musicians, we express whatever is." John also tells Kofsky that listening to the music is an action in which people can be affected. "It seems to me that the audience in listening, is in an act of participation, you know. And when you know that somebody maybe moved the same way you are, to such a degree or approaching the degree, it's just like having another member of the group." Coltrane continues," I think music is an instrument. It can create the initial thought patterns that can change the thinking of people." Terence is a musician with the same essence as Trane doing what he was born to do with Amazing Grace. I see them as leaders who can help bring out the best in us. John also stated, "Good can only bring good." I am sure Terence Blanchard would agree.
When starting my interview with Terence I reminded him that I met him before. A few years ago, I walked into the Blue Note Jazz club in New York City
to hear him perform which I found formidable with a purifying sense of being touched by honesty through music. That evening, I heard the recorded voice of Dr. Cornel West
loudly floating through the club through the speakers as Terence matched up his music with Dr. West's ability to say what the heart feels in his song "Choices." I attended the show with Dr. West and did not have a warning that this moment was about to occur, quite a memorable experience for me.
The fact is Terence was so profoundly impacted by Dr. West's philosophical body of work he included his spoken word on three albums. The words come directly from a Princeton University conversation in which Blanchard and West sat down together to dig into the meaning of life and death. Sharing what it means to be black in America, what it means to love, and what it means to try to be forces for good when there are also evil forces in the world. The music goes deep into coming to terms with understanding more and more what choices we make will define our character. The conversation between these two leaders impacted both of them, and for Terence the existential questions West posed are through lines. Dr. West speaks of the master musician with great respect. "Terence is a great figure in jazz and contemporary music. He is the real thing at the deepest level." West linguistically asks, while Blanchard musically asks, "What kind of human being are you going to be?"
In his song "Soldiers" on the albums Live
, we are reminded that Martin Luther King Jr. once walked the earth, with a willingness to love people so much he would sacrifice his life for us. King told us, "I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality." And we know Trane would agree, as he believed with brotherhood, war and poverty would not exist. Terence is also guided by the spirit and sacrifice of Malcolm X, and all the past and current social justice workers who give so much and get very little material reward. Their willingness to be the change, is their gift to us all. "Soldiers" sounds like a march for justice. Terence honors the resilience of people who continue to make great sacrifices to help create the change that is needed.
Terence Blanchard and the E-Collective were recently on tour creating the album Live
which felt like a caravan of love. They chose four cities in which serious incidents of gun violence occurred in the killing of black people by the misuse of police power and also where officers were tragically gunned down. The music preaches and teaches that gun violence should not be tolerated. Traveling to Minneapolis
, and New York for civic engagement, activism, and asking the question what are you going to do? Terence is tired of just the talk. He is looking for activity and hoping we all get an education by keeping the conversation going. During this tour of four cities, the band gave and received enlightenment. He was complimented highly when a white audience member shared how the music made him think differently about the pain and suffering black people are experiencing through racism.
On tour in Wisconsin however, an audience member told him after the show, "I don't give a fuck about your social justice message." Astonished too while on that tour one of his bandmates who is African American was refused service in their hotel restaurant. He went into the restaurant alone for breakfast, and the hostess told him he could not be seated without a reservation...the restaurant was empty.