July 2003
The Film Music of Spike Lee and Terence Blanchard : An Interview with Terence Blanchard

Interviewed by Wilson Morales

The Film Music of Spike Lee and Terence Blanchard: An Interview with Terence Blanchard

He may have lost the battle with TNN, but his name speaks volumes and so does his music. Through the years that heís directed films, the music that Director Spike Lee has incorporated in them serves as secondary characters that at times go unnoticed. Well, if you happen to be Chicago (July 26th) or Los Angeles (July 30th), please try to catch the last 2 remaining concerts of ďThe Film Music of Spike Lee and Terence BlanchardĒ, which is being presented by his favorite composer Terence Blanchard, with some songs sung by some talented artists.

JULY 26 Ė Orchestra Hall at Symphony Center featuring Angie Stone in Chicago, IL

JULY 30 Ė The Hollywood Bowl featuring Dianne Reeves & Angie Stone in Los Angeles, CA

Besides being a famous Jazz Trumpeter, Terence Blanchard has worked as a film composer for a number of years, with most of his scores done for a slew of Spike Lee films. Last year, Terence received a Golden Globe nomination for the score he composed for Spike Leeís last film, 25th HOUR. That was his 9th collaboration with Mr. Lee as the other scores were to Mo' Better Blues, Jungle Fever, Malcolm X, Clockers, Summer of Sam, Bamboozled, the documentaries Four Little Girls and Jim Bown-All American. Very recently of June 20th, I had the pleasure of attending a concert at Carnegie Hall as part of the JVC Jazz Festival. Hosted by Spike Lee himself, The Music of Spike Lee and Terence Blanchard was being presented by Terence Blanchard and his sextet band with orchestra. The artists that sang some songs were Bruce Hornsby, Angie Stone, and Cassandra Wilson, while images of Spike Leeís films were displayed on a big screen. So far the concerts have played in London & Philadelphia.

In an interview with blackfilm.com, Terence Blanchard talked about his collaboration with Spike Lee and his score for 25th Hour, his latest score for Mr. Lee.

WM: You have done most of the scores for Spike Leeís films. When he asked you to work on 25th Hour, what were you looking to add to the film?

TB: Well, first of all, I was trying to bring together all of those different elements that you need to have to help tell the story in the way he wants the story to be told. There are a number of key elements that are the whole idea behind post-9/11 New York which encompasses Al-Queda, New York police, which we kind of used with an Arabic vocalist and percussion and we represented the police with a pipes and Irish whistles and stuff like that. But in order to bring all those things together in a certain cohesive way was the task and the tough part, but to Spikeís credit, he put together a great film. And the only thing I had to do was to just follow was the film was telling me to do. It sounds sketchy, but when you sit down with a film and you work on scenes, and when you feel the film is really good, the music just flows, and it makes sense on its own.

WM: Does your relationship with Spike Lee give you the creative freedom you need to present the best score possible?

TB: Definitely. One of the things thatís been great about my relationship with Spike is that we have worked together for such a long time that we kind of have gotten this process together where I know what it is heís looking for within a few words of him giving me any type of direction because I know what he likes in film scores and I know how he tends to view the musicís role in his films and once we square all that stuff away, he gives me a lot of freedom. Once we have ironed out the concept he really trusts me to put together the score.

WM: Your score to 25th Hour is very dramatic and emotional. As you saw the film when it was cut and prior to you putting in the score, were you looking to add more to it?

TB: I think for me, the performances by Ed Norton and Brian Cox and the rest of the cast were just amazing. So thatís the first thing that inspires you. The other thing is that the story itself is a powerful story. To think that this guy is going to jail for seven years and this is the last day before he goes to jail; so there has to be a lot of things going through your mind and I just tried to make sure that the music can carry that kind of emotional weight throughout the film without bogging it down.

WM: What were some of the challenges of putting this score together?

TB: Wow! Like I said before, the biggest challenge is that this movie takes place over the period of 24 hrs and you have to keep the story moving along and you have to make sure that music doesnít slow things down. There are a lot of things that happened in this movie that are pertinent to telling the story and I didnít want the music to get in the way of that, but the music is another character in this film. When you look at the opening credits to the film, the music plays a big role in it and in the last part of the film; the music is there for an extended period of time. I had to pick and choose my spots and that was a tough part, but Spike was really great in giving me directions in terms of where he thought the music should play a dominant role where it should fall back into just being in the background.

WM: The score is indeed a character in the movie as it is often repeated. Was that your intention to play it so many times?

TB: No. That was Spikeís intention. We were talking about this movie, he called me up and said, ďLook man, this is going to be all you. There isnít going any source material, and there wonít e a lot of space. Thereís going to be wall-to-wall music and thereís going to be a lot of stuff going on and you need to be prepared.Ē When he told me that, I started to organize my thoughts and the film in my mind and on paper in terms of how many cues for this particular situation and how many cues for another type of situation and where they occurred and how things were developing. That gave me a very detailed overview in terms of how I felt the score should develop and evolve throughout the film. And then again, we you have great acting, and great cinematography and great editing, everything starts to flow because it starts to make sense. My role is to not to get in the way of that but enhance it.

WM: To my knowledge, you and Stanley Clarke are probably the only African-Americans doing film scores. Why is that so?

TB: Marcus Miller is another brother doing a lot of great things. Well, I donít know. I donít have an answer for that. I think you have to go to those folks and ask them whatís going on. For me, I just love doing this. I have always loved doing this since I started with Jungle Fever, which was my first film, and Iím just trying to get better at it. I think there are some guys out there like another friend of mine, Todd Cochrane, whoís a great composer as well, who have the ability to do a lot of great things. Whether they get the opportunity to do so is another issue, but I have no control over that. The only thing I can do is make sure that I do the best that I can and try to create opportunities for those who come behind me.

WM: Whatís more comfortable doing, a film score or a jazz album?

TB: Itís different because each comes with different sets of problems that need to be solved. When you deal with a jazz band, youíre dealing with 5-7 personalities that can really enhance your composition and you have to allow them room to do that. The other thing is about you telling your story. When you do film music, you still have your identity as a musician but itís really about you helping someone tell their story. And if you keep those two things in perspective, you can enjoy both because you understand the intent of both. I think that sometimes guys come to the film world thinking theyíre going to be jazz performers or performers period and the music should take a lead role and thatís not purpose of film scores or film music in general all the time. Sometimes it is but most of the times itís not. And you keep that in perspective, you can go through this career having a good time, working on some great projects.

WM: What are you working on next?

TB: Right now, Iím working on some music for an album. Iím going to do an album for Blue Note Records. Iím just trying to get prepared for that process because it will be a little different for me. Usually my albums have consisted of a jazz quintet, which is the standard jazz quintet, with tenor saxophone, trumpeter, piano, base, and drums. But now, I have added organ and guitar to the group which gives me more colors on the pallet to choose from; so Iím just excited about writing about that particular group and just optimistic about whatís going to happen.

WM: Thanks for speaking to blackfilm.com

TB: I have had the best time doing this and I always have to thank Spike for giving me a chance to work on some really great projects that push me artistically. Iím just happy to be involved, and Iíve had fun working on his films.