Terence Blanchard and Donald Harrison

Black History Month

Black History Month and New Orleans – The Tradition Continues

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Donald Harrison was born in 1960 in New Orleans. Harrison’s father is one of the leaders of the Mardi Gras Indians, which performs African call and response chants during Mardi Gras events. Harrison was deeply influenced by the culture of New Orleans growing up as whether it be a wedding, funeral or any type of community event Jazz is present. In his own words, “everything we do, jazz is there…So, jazz is like life to me…”. In high school Donald studied under Ellis Marsalis who taught him the basics of bebop and post bop. Harrison knows deeply how the beginnings of Jazz leads down a path to the music we play today and has spoken of Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong and Buddy Bolden in interviews citing how Armstrong and Bolden influenced Charlie Parker and Lester Young, who influenced John Coltrane. “All those guys have passed down a tradition to each other. And hopefully I’m trying to do the same”.

In his professional career Donald has played with Roy Haynes, Jack McDuff, Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, Don Pullen and reformed Headhunters band in the 1990s. Harrison created the Nouveau Swing style of jazz in 1994 which combines traditional swing beat with hip hop and has heavy New Orleans influences as well. This can be heard on recordings of his group The New Sounds of Mardi Gras. Donald won ‘person of the year’ from Jazziz magazine in 2007 and directed the New Jazz School for the Isidore Newman School in New Orleans.

Terence Blanchard was born in 1962 in New Orleans and his father was a part time Opera singer. Blanchard began playing piano at the age of five and picked up the trumpet at age eight. Terence grew up and played music with childhood friend Wynton Marsalis in summer camps. In high school Blanchard studied at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts with Ellis Marsalis. Terence went on to study music at Rutger University while touring with the Lional Hampton Orchestra until replacing Wynton as the lead trumpet player and musical director in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. In the late 1980s the Harrison/Blanchard group was formed and they recorded five albums together in that time before each went on to their solo careers.

In addition to his solo career in Jazz, Terence has scored every Spike Lee movie since Jungle Fever in 1991. Some of these include Malcom X, Summer of Sam and 25th Hour. In 2006 Blanchard scored Spike Lee’s documentary on Katrina called ‘When The Levees Broke, A Requiem In Four Acts’ and an album in 2007 called ‘A Tale of God’s Will (A Requiem for Katrina)’. In Blanchard’s own words “This is what we are called to do as artists, we document our social surroundings and give our impressions of events. The problem with Katrina is that the devastation is so vast that there’s only been a trickle of art so far. We’re all still digesting what went on and what continues to happen. It’s like an unending story. For me, like so many others, it’s taken me a moment to get my mind around all of this. I knew I needed to express this musically to keep the story alive, but so many important things—the safety of family members, figuring out how to rebuild my mother’s house—never allowed me the time to breathe for a minute. It’s part of the grieving process. Once I wrote some of the music for Spike’s film, I knew I could take it and expand upon it. Meanwhile, guys in my band were writing music that reflected on what happened in the aftermath of Katrina. This provided me with the perfect opportunity to bring the band all together.”

Terence has been nominated for eleven Grammy awards and won four, his last in 2009 for Best Jazz Instrumental Solo on the album ‘Watts’. He also been nominated for an Emmy and a Golden Globe award.


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