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Terence Blanchard: Requiem for Katrina

Lloyd N. Peterson Jr. By

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I see a community that is coming together in ways that haven't been there in a long, long time. So that's a really great thing ... Maybe we had to go through all of this to really determine what is really valuable in life.
During a brief period of four years, two events took place that could define how world history will view America during the early part of the 21st century. The first was 9/11 and the other, Hurricane Katrina. But perhaps most surprising from a global point of view, was how powerless America appeared to be in helping its own citizens who were left destitute during the aftermath of Katrina.

How could the United States, the nation who has been there to support others globally in a time of need, appear so uncaring and insensitive towards its very own people? The question, "What has happened to America?" rang out throughout the world during those dark hours and continues to echo as a new president and administration come into office.

Perhaps one of the most empathetic and compassionate memoirs in reverence to the people of New Orleans came from the brilliant composer and trumpeter, Terence Blanchard. His recording, A Tale of God's Will (A Requiem for Katrina) (Blue Note, 2007), speaks loudly, though without words, reflecting the pain and frustration of people that were forgotten during their greatest time of need.

All About Jazz spoke to Blanchard with interviews that took place on Nov. 30 and Dec. 7 of 2007. Though it has now been a little over a year since the interviews took place, the importance and weight of these words still resonate more today than ever before.

All About Jazz: Is the pain and passion in the recording, "A Tale of God's Will" (Requiem for Katrina) for the people of New Orleans?

Terrence Blanchard: It's a passion for the people of New Orleans and it's a cry of frustration for all our hopes and dreams. It's a sense that we have had enough and we are not going to take it anymore. What else can happen? We have been embarrassed as a nation and I could go on and on and on.

AAJ: There also seems to be a telling peacefulness with a suggested common understanding that we do understand, that we still have each other, in a certain gospel sense.

TB: Well, that's exactly it, that's exactly it. Because at the end of the day, when people ask me why it's called A Tale of God's Will, I say look: when we all came back to New Orleans for the first time and saw the level of devastation, our hearts were broken. We all asked ourselves how this could have happened. Why did this have to happen and who is responsible? You end up going through the whole scenario and you don't get answers to most of the questions. And the only thing you can rest with is your faith and a sense of family because here is the deal about Katrina: Katrina didn't give a shit about how much money you made or who you were. We were all put into the same boat in a matter of hours, all of us.

There was an amazing moment during the Higher Ground benefit that took place at the Lincoln Center (Jazz at Lincoln Center's Higher ground Hurricane Relief benefit, Sept. 17, 2007, an all-star jazz event). There were all these musicians from New Orleans who were performing, but very few heard any of the night's performances. And that's because we were all backstage wondering how we and our families were doing. Where are you living now? Are you going back? And that was the mantra that was heard and we only went to the stage when it was time for us to play. So the sense of community in what you are talking about had already begun.

AAJ: One of the most touching moments in Spike Lee's movie, "When the Levee's Broke" was when you walked with your mother as she went back into her home for the first time after Katrina. I hope so much that she is doing OK.

TB: Thanks for asking. She is back in her house and doing fine. But it was a hard scene to do, it was real life and it was difficult to walk through that. When you get to the point of having to take care of your parents, you become your parents so to speak and you don't want to allow anything to hurt them. So it was really rough being in that situation.

AAJ: On Oct. 12, 2007, it was reported that of the $1.1 billion that was needed in order to start rebuilding New Orleans, only $216 million was available. That was after two years and is less than what is spent in Iraq in one day.

TB: Of course, and that's a large part of the frustration that we have. There is an arrogance that the average American person is stupid and cannot decipher what is going on. That we are lacking in intelligence and cannot comprehend. It's like the "emperor has no clothes" kind of thing. I mean, do you really think that we cannot put two and two together? We are spending over $900 billion in Iraq and you can't even give a fraction of that to build the infrastructure of this city?

AAJ: The aftermath of Katrina is one of the most embarrassing moments in our history and again continues to reflect how we treat African-Americans in this country.

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