Terence Blanchard, a six-time Grammy-winning jazz trumpeter, composer, and music educator, took the stage at the Walt Disney Concert Hall (WDCH) on Saturday, March 18. Concertgoers were in for a surprise as the fire alarm went off during Blanchard’s introductions of his band, the E-Collective. The warning continued with periodic announcements, delaying the concert for at least 10 minutes. This interruption may be the first time in WDCH history that a fire alarm impacted a performance.
Blanchard, a perennial collaborator of Lee’s, took it all in stride, displaying his sublime sense of humor, “Talk about taking the roof off,” Blanchard said as he patiently waited for instructions from the WDCH, “whether to cease play or die in the fire.” Blanchard reflected on the fire alarm interruption as he was to perform this same concert two years ago and did not get to do so because of the Pandemic. On this night, however, even a false fire alarm could not prevent the dulcet movie scores from filling the air in the concert hall. It was, in a word – magical.
Along with his band, the concert featured the always wonderful Thomas Wilkins and the Los Angeles Philharmonic for a night of storytelling featuring music from celebrated films such as, “Malcolm X,” “Mo’ Better Blues,” “Clockers,” “Jungle Fever,” and the Blanchard Oscar-nominated “BlacKkKlansman.” By the way, Blanchard is the second Black composer nominated twice for an Oscar in the Best Original Score category. The legendary Quincy Jones was the first, and Herbie Hancock is the only Black artist to win this category for “Round Midnight.”
Blanchard, in his stylish to-die-for pants and shoes, accomplished a few things with this on-fire performance: first, the performances of the movie scores were powerful, bolstered by the appearances of special guests Lalah Hathaway and Tarriona “Tank” Bell, both New Orleans natives and as Blanchard proudly called them, his “homegirls.”
Second, the concert brought back welcomed memories as scenes from the brilliant work of director Spike Lee flashed across the screen. And finally, you saw Black and White actors whose tremendous talents were showcased by Lee early in their careers: Emmy-winner Kerry Washington, Oscar nominee Rosie Perez, NAACP Image Award winner Wesley Snipes, Honorary Oscar Recipient Samuel L. Jackson, Oscar winner Halle Berry, and two-time Oscar winner, Ruth Carter, to name a few.
Lee had an eye for talent and generously gave actors and Blanchard himself opportunities to hone and expand their craft.
“When Spike asked if I could write for an orchestra, I lied and said yes.”
And we are certainly glad Blanchard said yes. The program’s first half featured Blanchard and the oh-so-deft E-Collective on music from “Mo’ Better Blues.” An eclectic mix, the E-Collective featured the sounds of Ben Wendel on saxophone, Charles Altura on electric guitar, Taylor Eigsti on piano and keyboards, David Ginyard, Jr. on electric bass, Oscar Seaton on drums, and of course, Blanchard on Trumpet and synths.
Under the direction of its leader, Thomas Wilkins, the LA Philharmonic joined Blanchard and the E-Collective on the Malcolm X Concert Suite. The score exemplified the beauty of the film’s performances and the exquisite music. Actor Denzel Washington delivered an unforgettable and Oscar-nominated portrayal of Malcolm X.
The fantastic Lalah Hathaway took the stage and, as only she can, delivered a powerful performance of “Someday We’ll All Be Free” from “Malcolm X,” which she sang barefoot, adding a little something extra to an extraordinary performance.
The Orchestra returned for moving performances of the “Clockers” Suite and “The 25th Hour” Suite. The E-Collective featuring lead singer Tarriona “Tank” Bell of Tank and the Bangas performed “These Three Words” from “Jungle Fever.” Tank, resplendent in red, ‘sang’ that song as only she could. The first half concluded with the E-Collective and the LA Phil playing the “Inside Man” suite.
The second half opened with the performance of “A Tale of God’s Will” from Ashe with the E-Collective and the LA Phil. Tank returned to the stage to perform “Make Sure You’re Sure” from “Jungle Fever,” accompanied by the E-Collective, bringing the audience to their feet again.
Blanchard introduced Lee’s 2008 film “Miracle at St. Anna,” as a piece that “means a lot to him.”
The film told the story of the resistance and skepticism toward utilizing the 92nd Infantry Division of the Buffalo Soldiers. “We never had a chance to honor the Buffalo Soldiers, and this “allowed me to do that.”
BlacKkKlansman Suite, the Oscar-nominated score, evoked memories of Lee as a “brave, brave soul,” Blanchard said, speaking of Lee’s commitment to social advocacy when it’s uncomfortable. The night ended with Hathaway and the E-Collective performing the Marvin Gaye hit, “What’s Going On.”
Blanchard, Hathaway, Bell, the E-Collective, Thomas Wilkins, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic (Concertmaster Nathan Cole, principal second violin Kristine Whitson, principal viola Dana Lawson, principal cello Jonatha Karoly, principal bass Christopher Hanulik, principal flute Catherine Karoly, principal oboe Marion Arthur Kuszyk, principal clarinet Burt Hara, principal bassoon Shawn Mouser, principal horn Amy Jo Rhine, principal trumpet James Wilt, principal trombone James Miller, tuba Mason Soria, principal timpani David Riccobono, and principal percussion Matthew Howard) carried the night.
These artists allowed the movie music of Spike Lee and Terence Blanchard to do what it does; ignite fond memories, feed your soul, and set the night on fire!