Terence Blanchard – Simply Stated (1991)

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This record was, Blanchard told me, his love letter to Miles Davis. In retrospect, it was the beginning of his ascension from young lion into modern standard bearer, too.

Born in New Orleans, and brought up in one of the final incarnations of Art Blakey’s traveling finishing school the Jazz Messengers, Blanchard was often inappropriately compared to the similarly resumed Wynton Marsalis. But he has always been more generous in his playing style, baroque as needed but with a welcome taste of grit — like a fresh Gulf Coast err-ster.

Yet there was, to be sure, something more: Blanchard eventually made his way to New York, and that introduced new colorings to his palette.

Blanchard’s playing took on the tempo and tenor of the city and, it seemed, he began to fully realize where one of his main influences had always come from: Miles Dewey Davis.

“Simply Stated,” pleasant if never really triumphant, is centered by sharp if respectful renditions of a challenging Davis-associated number “Dear Old Stockholm” and then on “Sleepy Time Down South.” Blanchard, working his way back from a problem with his embouchure, even then blended enough artistry to draw second glances. As perhaps overly careful as this album sometimes was, it actually marked the starting point in a series giant steps for Blanchard as an artist.

It seems, first, he had to cop to his long-held passion for Davis.

Blanchard said, if he could give any one jazz album as a Christmas present, it would be Miles’ update on “Porgy and Bess.” He still remembers every detail of the first Davis cut he ever heard, “My Funny Valentine,” with pianist Herbie Hancock, bass player Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams.

“I kept running it back because, first of all, I heard Herbie’s intro,” Blanchard told me. “It was amazing. It just drew you into the piece. Then Miles would come in.”

Here, Blanchard hums the now-immortal notes: Doo-doo-dee doo.

“There was something about that,” Blanchard said. “It was haunting. I was a Miles Davis freak from then on.”

“Simply Stated,” like Blanchard’s self-titled solo debut from a year before, went Top 10 on the Billboard traditional jazz charts. Successes as a bandleader, major composer and instructor — in the fall of 2000, Blanchard was named artistic director of USC’s Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz — would follow.

You could argue that his subsequent soundtrack work, principally with Spike Lee, helped revive jazz compositions in film. During his tenure at Columbia, both of his soundtracks (“Mo’ Better Blues” and “The Heart Speaks”) were nominated for Grammys.

To be honest, he began to sound more like Duke Ellington, Quincy Jones and — yes — Miles, than he ever resembled Marsalis. A certain lingering connection remains: Today, two of Blanchard’s mentors at the Monk Institute are Hancock and saxophonist Wayne Shorter, both of whom made their bones playing for you-know-who.

Maybe finally dealing with the spectre of Miles Davis was the push Blanchard needed to achieve his own destined greatness. He’s made a pair of well-received albums for Blue Note more recently.

The truth is, and this dates back even to his salad days with Blakey (see embedded video below), that Blanchard’s trumpet sound was always direct and clear. Now his voice is, too.


Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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