Trumpeter Terence Blanchard has scored numerous films including Spike Lee’s “Da 5 Bloods” and “The Woman King” starring Academy Award-winner Viola Davis. His opera, “Fire Shut Up in My Bones,” was the first time a project by an African American composer was staged at the Metropolitan Opera House in its 136-year history. Credit: Cedric Angeles

Two little boys sat side by side in Loyola Summer Camp’s jazz band on St. Charles Avenue in the early ‘70s, trumpets in hand. Terence Blanchard and Wynton Marsalis were 10 and 11 years old. They looked around them at the other band members. “We’re the only two brothers in here!” Wynton said to Terence.

Today, Blanchard and Marsalis have 16 Grammy Awards between them and are celebrated internationally as jazz legends. Most recently, Blanchard and Marsalis are leading some of the most prominent jazz institutions in the country. 

Marsalis is the managing and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York, while on Thursday (June 8), Blanchard was named executive artistic director of SFJAZZ, in San Francisco, the largest non-profit jazz presenter in the world. He is the first African American to hold the position. 

SFJAZZ is celebrating its 40th anniversary as Blanchard steps into the role. The organization hosts a yearly festival with 40 concerts over 12 days, and hosts musicians from more than a dozen countries. SFJAZZ also has welcomed New Orleans favorites Donald Harrison Jr., Trombone Shorty, Jason Marsalis, Branford Marsalis, as well as the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Blanchard has a long relationship with SFJAZZ going back nearly 30 years. 

When asked what Blanchard will bring to the role, founder and retiring artistic director Robert Kline said, “He’s going to bring Terence Blanchard. He’s formidable. He’s never ceased to amaze me with his just limitless talents.” 

Award-winning musician and composer Terence Blanchard has been named executive artistic director at the SFJAZZ center in San Francisco. Credit: Scott Chernis

Over the course of his career, Blanchard has written original scores for more than 50 films including most recently “The Woman King,” starring Academy Award-winner Viola Davis and “One Night in Miami,” Regina King’s directorial debut. Blanchard has been a close collaborator with director Spike Lee since the early 1990s and was nominated for two Academy Awards for his original scores for Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman” and “Da 5 Bloods” in 2019 and 2021. 

His approach to the form and function of his music, and contributions to the field of opera have also been celebrated internationally. Blanchard became the first African American composer to have his work hosted by the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, for his innovative jazz opera “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” in the 2021-2022 season. His next opera, “Champion,” premiered at the Metropolitan Opera House in April. 

Marsalis said Blanchard, “has a vision of virtuosity, and a lifetime of experience at the highest level. And you know, he’s from New Orleans so he has that feeling. A down-home feeling.” 

Blanchard credits his hometown for nurturing his craft and his deep love of music. 

New Orleans native Terence Blanchard, seven-time Grammy winner and two-time Oscar nominee, has scored numerous films. His latest work was an opera at the Metropolitan Opera House. Credit: Cedric Angeles

“One of the things that was really great about growing up here (in New Orleans) was that I can hear guys play the traditional style of music in the French Quarter, you know, from Preservation Hall, all the way onto the Dirty Dozen brass bands,” Blanchard said. “And then going home and listening to Miles Davis and Clifford Brown really made me understand how much music should evolve.” 

Blanchard grew up in Pontchartrain Park and the Lower 9th Ward. He attended Kennedy High School and the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts where he and Marsalis both studied.  It was the teachers and mentors in the community, Blanchard said, that put him and Marsalis in a position to create the way that they do and to lead the most important jazz institutions in the country. In particular, Blanchard thanked his lifetime mentor and composition teacher Roger Dickerson. “If it wasn’t for Roger, I wouldn’t be doing any of this,” he said. 

Blanchard was 16 when he first arrived at Dickerson’s home studio in the late 1970s, to audition for private lessons. “Right away I realized that he had a fire in his belly,” Dickerson said. He would go on to mentor Blanchard throughout his life.

“Terence is one of those people who represents the coming back of an artistic bird with both wings,” said Dickerson, “the notated tradition, and the improvisation tradition.” 

It is this commitment to both composition and musical innovation founded in New Orleans that Blanchard hopes to bring to his role as the executive artistic director at SFJAZZ. 

“That’s what I look forward to bringing,” Blanchard said. “The main thing about SFJAZZ that I love is that they don’t treat the music like it’s a fossil. They treat it like it’s a living breathing thing and the artists that are creating now, really matter.”

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Climate and multimedia journalist Lue Palmer is a native of Toronto, Canada, with roots in Jamaica. Before entering their career in journalism, Lue was a writer, documentarian and podcaster, covering race,...