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Terence Blanchard Plays Jazz in Film 

click to enlarge Terence Blanchard is a veteran movie score writer, particularly for Spike Lee films - PHOTO BY JENNY BAGERT
  • Photo by Jenny Bagert
  • Terence Blanchard is a veteran movie score writer, particularly for Spike Lee films
Behind every Spike Lee joint since 1991's Jungle Fever lies Terence Blanchard's jazz trumpet. Just as John Williams' soaring orchestral scores helped crystallize Steven Spielberg's sense of wide-eyed wonder, Blanchard's slinky arrangements and hard-bop horns became an integral part of Lee's sensual cinematic signature.

  In 1999, concurrent with the soundtrack for Lee's Summer of Sam, Blanchard and his quintet released Jazz in Film, a collection of prominent covers from the genre's Hollywood heyday, 1951 to 1975. The track list, which the group reprises on Saturday in concert with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, includes both jazz/pop heavyweights like Duke Ellington (Anatomy of a Murder, 1959) and Quincy Jones (The Pawnbroker, 1965) and classical composers like Elmer Bernstein (Man With the Golden Arm, 1955) and Jerry Goldsmith (Chinatown, 1974). The show also will include original scores from several Lee films.

  "I kept hearing that (jazz in) film didn't work," Blanchard says of the album's impetus. "And I said to myself, 'That's crazy.' ... Any one of those themes can be viewed as a turning point in the history of film scoring. I was just trying to make a point: that the statement that jazz doesn't work in film should never really be used again. I'd prefer you just tell me, 'I don't like jazz.'"

  One indicator of the scores' influence, he points out, is their reincarnation in other forms: "You can just track tons of movies that have come after those themes, damn near sound-alikes, you know? Chinatown, definitely. You look at Anatomy of a Murder, that big-band thing, the way that was done. You can hear a lot of television shows that came out of that vibe."

  Blanchard's own Grammy-winning opus, 2007's A Tale of God's Will (A Requiem For Katrina), is an expansion of his score for Lee's documentary When the Levees Broke. On his creative give-and-take with the iconic director, which now spans a dozen films, Blanchard says it's a nonstop learning experience.

  "I don't know how I've influenced him, but I know for me it's all about his cinematic vision and his musical tastes," he says. "I've worked with him in ways where I've given him themes for different things, and he's swapped them all around. That had to make me rethink my position musically. A number of those situations have caused me to look at music as a very malleable kind of thing. We always look at our creations as being etched in stone, and that doesn't necessarily have to be."

  Asked whether Lee's use of his music ever caught him by surprise, Blanchard laughs. "It's hard to answer that question because I'm always expecting him to do something," he says. "There was a theme I had given him (for the 2006 thriller Inside Man) — what I thought was going to be the love theme. He wound up using it for "Dalton's Theme," my man Clive Owen's character (a bank robber). All of a sudden, I've got to think about this theme in a totally different manner.

  "Things like that make you stretch," he adds "because now I have to make this theme have an element of danger and suspense to it, where before I wanted it to be passionate and sensual."

"Terence Blanchard Plays Jazz in Film"

8 p.m. Sat., Feb. 28

Mahalia Jackson Theater, 801 N. Rampart St., 523-6530;

Tickets $15-$60


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