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)

Do you look at scoring a film in the same way you might look at a commission? And do you differentiate between a Spike Lee movie and something like On The Record, the documentary about sexual assault allegations against hip-hop magnate Russell Simmons?

The thing about creating music for film is that you really have to throw away your intent and deal with the intent of the story. It’s like what I said about writing off of the script: You might get excited about the story, but that’s your impression. And when you actually see the film, you have to divorce yourself from that and really focus on what’s on the screen.

That sounds like playing in someone else’s band.

Oh, it’s definitely like playing in someone else’s band. Art Blakey always used to tell us, “Let the punishment fit the crime; play what the music calls for. No more, no less.”

It’s striking to see so many people comment on how timely Da 5 Bloods is. It would work basically the same way any time in the past 50 years as a recontextualization of an American war.

That’s just what I was getting ready to say, because that question has come up a lot in my interviews. Some people want to label Spike “psychic.” And my response to that is, no, he’s not psychic. It’s just how long this has been going on.

It could have been released last year and it would have been the same thing.

It also could have been about a previous war. It’s almost the same thing as Black musicians in the ’50s being sent around the world to represent American democracy on The Jazz Ambassadors tours. It’s a weird disconnect.

Part of that comes from people not wanting to really understand how deep these issues are. I think George Floyd’s death on camera was a wake-up call for a lot of people. They actually saw someone who looked like he was enjoying killing another person. Now, people can see the level of hate that really exists that we’ve been talking about for generations.

The brutality has been so severe that sometimes well-meaning people can’t believe that it can go to that degree. But now we’ve seen it. Then right after that, to have Rayshard Brooks shot in the back? What else has to happen?

At the same time, the sad part about this is that Spike’s movie is relevant, even with all the other messages in the film that people aren’t picking up on—the one guy [in the film] who’s a Trump supporter, he has mental-health problems.

I think Apocalypse Now is visually referenced in the movie. Was that on your mind when scoring this? Were you thinking about genre pictures?

With Spike’s movies, I try to broaden the perspective of the films. You’ll have great usage of source material to set the mood and give you a sense of timing, in terms of period. What I try to do is have people look at the images and situations from a broader perspective.

Spike always tells me right before we start working, “OK, it’s time to take us to the next level.”

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