Terence Blanchard Addresses The Past Through Work With Spike Lee And Preps For Brighter Future

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Terence Blanchard—who won a Grammy in the category Best Instrumental Composition for “Blut Und Boden (Blood And Soil),” a work featured in Spike Lee’s 2018 movie BlacKkKlansman—composed the score for the filmmaker’s latest effort, Da 5 Bloods.

(Photo: Henry Abenejo)

The following has been edited for length and clarity.

I think you’ve said before that Spike usually calls you to discuss a project as a first step. But do you remember reading the script for Da 5 Bloods?

Oh, yeah, I remember. What I’ve learned with Spike is not to draw too many ideas from the script, because I’m creating my own movie in my mind. His cinematic vision is so unique that I have to wait to see what colors he’s using. How it’s shot. The flow and the pacing.

When I read the story, though, I was intrigued by the notion of these guys going back to Vietnam to pick up the remains of a fallen brother, which is something that’s still going on.

Did your father serve in Vietnam—or other members of your family?

My father was much older when he had me. He wasn’t in Vietnam. But I had two uncles—one was in the Navy and one was in the Army. And the one that was in the Army, when I was a little kid, I used to ask him questions about it. … The notion of life and death being that fragile blew my mind.

Did some of that come back to you when you were working on the score?

Oh, of course. Not only did that come back, but I remembered a number of guys in my neighborhood who were suffering from PTSD. They would always be walking around the neighborhood with their [military] jackets on. One of them, he was just not well. And I don’t know what happened to him to this day. The older I became, the more I started to reflect back on him and what happened to him while he was over there.

The thing about it is, when you’re that close to it, and those guys had those type of reactions to it, it really piques your curiosity about the reality of what they saw, because none of them readily talked about that stuff; you always had to ask.

Do you usually visit the set for projects like this?

Last time I was on set, I was working on [Lee’s 1990 film] Mo’ Better Blues. There’s no need for me to be there, because when they start editing—it’s an amazing thing the way Spike works. You can watch him shoot and you can watch him shoot, and you still won’t have an idea of what the final product is going to be like. You might have an idea of the color or the flavor of it, but the way he edits and puts things together is so unique. You really have to wait to see things.

I don’t remember what movie it was, but it was early on in our relationship, and I was writing music based on the script. I didn’t use any of that stuff when I saw the final [film].

Spike has some very specific visual riffs—like that dolly shot. Have you developed melodic or harmonic ideas that you think fit specifically with his work?

Maybe, but not consciously. I wouldn’t doubt it, because I would watch a film to get inspiration for what the harmonies should be, what the melodies should be. And I know he likes strong melodic content. He’s not one of these guys who likes atmospheric stuff. In that regard, definitely. There’s probably been a style that’s developed over the years, just to score his films.

I just got off the phone with him; he’s talking about doing another project. And he says, “I’m going to send you some information about it.” And that’s it. We start talking about other things—sports and shit.

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