Hot Hollywood horn player

Renowned trumpeter-composer Terence Blanchard remembers with trepidation writing one of his first film scores more than a decade ago for Spike Lee's "Jungle Fever."

"I was scared to death," says the twice Grammy-nominated Blanchard, speaking via telephone from a Manhattan hotel. So he called up one of his mentors, who offered comforting advice: "Trust your ears. You know how to write. Do your job."

That's all the New Orleans trumpeter needed to hear.

"It relaxed me, and I just went ahead and focused and had a good time doing do it."

More than 20 movie scores and eight albums later, Blanchard can afford to be selective with his projects, whether it be film scores, working on a solo or collaborative project, or writing a tune for one of his four children.

His latest release, "Let's Get Lost" (Sony) features the love songs of Jimmy McHugh, an American composer who wrote hits for Broadway, Hollywood, and night clubs between the 1920s and the 1950s. Recent movies such as "Eyes Wide Shut" and "The Green Mile" feature McHugh's songs.

"When you look at the number of people who have recorded [McHugh's] music, and you look at the variety of genres that have investigated his tunes," Blanchard says, "that's really a true testament to his genius as a composer."

Top women jazz singers Diana Krall, Cassandra Wilson, Dianne Reeves, and rising newcomer Jane Monheit lend their vocals to the 11-track CD, which includes "I'm in the Mood for Love" and "Sunny Side of the Street."

"I've always had a love for singers," says Blanchard, whose father was a professional opera singer in the late 1930s and '40s.

"I wish I could sing. I've tried, [but] publicly, no!" he says, letting out an uproarious laugh. "My father wanted me to sing, but he didn't pass that gene down to me."

What his father did pass along to him was a love for jazz and a strong work ethic. He encouraged his son to play the piano at the age of 5, but young Terence quickly changed his tune when a jazz band performed at his grade school. After hearing a trumpet player in the band, Blanchard said, "I want to do that!"

Since this revelation, Blanchard has carved out a notable career. He received a Grammy nomination for "Wandering Moon," last year's release featuring Blanchard performing his own compositions, and Album of the Year in Down Beat, a jazz magazine. The Wall Street Journal called his "writing superb and heartfelt, his playing perfect."

This summer, Blanchard's film scores include "Original Sin," with Angelina Jolie, and "All That Glitters," with Mariah Carey. He's now working on an Al Pacino movie, "People I Know."

"When I was a kid," Blanchard says, "I always knew that I wanted to have a number of musical experiences, and that's what film gives me the opportunity to do." Through films, he hopes to reach a broad audience.

"You're always trying to spread the word about [jazz] because Americans all too often kind of blow it off as being something of a past generation. The younger people are starting to see that it's not. We just need to keep that movement pushing forward."

As for the state of jazz, Blanchard says he has mixed emotions. It's become more accessible to a wider public, but he is worried about its overall vision.

"There are some young guys out there doing some good things, but jazz is in this lull, and it's trying to fight it's way out of it. The music will be successful, it's just going to take time."

Blanchard says he could make more money just writing film scores, but he loves to perform. He is away from his New Orleans home 80 percent of the year. Last month, he played at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

"There were so many [performers] that I saw who have helped me understand what it takes to be a musician," he says. He loves listening to the music, but then "that food starts to call you. You start wandering all over ... trying to get a soft shell crab."

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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