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How to Keep a Festival Afloat

Press Room at the Montreal Jazz Festival

A few days ago, Arnold Jay Smith reported on the music at the Montreal Jazz Festival. But now he looks behind the scenes, and tells us how a huge jazz festival stays afloat in the current economic crisis.

“So how do you like our new digs?” That replaced “bon jour” as a greeting by Andre Menard, co-founder and Artistic Director of the Montréal Jazz Festival. “I have been running around this place making sure of everything.” “Everything” included the new press floor in the “Canadian government’s anniversary present to us, an entire building, with a 60-year lease.”

The spacious 2nd floor of this former warehouse just off Place des Arts, the site of the festival is now Festival International de Jazz de Montréal permanent headquarters. There is a new nightclub on the ground floor, L’Astral, where jazz will be presented throughout the year, as well as a restaurant. The club replaces the Spectrum, the converted movie theatre that was torn down last winter. “We leased the [Spectrum] property for 25 years and we wanted to buy it and redevelop it. We spent three years and C$1.5 million to redevelop the Spectrum. We were supposed to be given first refusal, but we somehow got by-passed and lost it to another bidder,” Menard said. The lot is now a mound of rubble, an eyesore of a construction site, as the new owners have run into financial difficulties.

“The plan is to convert the entire street [a block along St. Catherine near Place des Arts] into multi-use living and entertainment, including another tower for Complex de Jardins,” he explained. “But that guy [who owns those properties] is pretty tough; he’s not giving in so fast. It’s all paid for so he’s in no hurry to sell.”

Finances were my main topic of conversation, what with the overcast economic atmosphere. The lead sponsors over the span of time I have been visiting FIJM –more than a decade—have gone the way of government banishment: tobacco (du Maurier cigarettes), alcohol (LaBatt Breweries), or, and finally, General Motors. “Alcan Rio Tinto is our second level sponsor so [we were looking] for a lead sponsor,” Menard explained. They later announced that TD (Toronto Dominion Bank) would be the replacement for GM. “Understand that, as this is the main cultural event in Canada, if we didn’t replace GM a lot of people would have been in trouble,” Menard said.

The FIJM not only set in motion a regular jazz presentation in Montréal, it also allowed clubs to open, music stores selling instruments, CDs and live performances to flourish and eventually encouraged others in Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver to support their own festivals. “[Losing FIJM] would certainly cause a serious economic gap,” Menard opined. FIJM is the largest in the world and encompasses about a half-mile square of streets closed to vehicular traffic in the center of town, much more this year if you include Stevie Wonder’s 200,000+ attendance record.

“We have been going through some changes, not only recent economic developments, but the government clamp downs on smoking and beer,” Menard said. When asked if this or any other festival can survive without corporate sponsorship, Menard shook his head vigorously. “Not at all,” he said. “We depend on sponsorship. We can always reduce its size, cut out the big acts. But we are not in the business of downsizing the festival. We strive to keep it the size it is. We can’t grow much in size either. We’ve matured to what we are. There are still corporations who want the identification with us. We have proved that we are a very good vehicle for branding.”

I asked specifically about JVC’s pulling out, a brand compatible with jazz festivals. “Perhaps [the JVC Festivals] just outlived its usefulness [for them] on some level,” Menard said. “After a while a sponsor may think that it is being taken for granted, that they go unnoticed by the public. These corporations do research and the have very precise measurements as to what is profitable and what is not. I can’t analyze it, as it is too far from my reality.”

Save for the vaunted Stevie Wonder Spectacular, attendance was unimpressive to these eyes probably due to regular rainfall for the entire first week. Menard said otherwise. He thought that the box offices were the same as last year. In the final analysis the official boilerplate press release stated that the goal of C$5.1 million was reached, and with “sales of tourist packages, sales at souvenir boutiques and food and beverage kiosks increased.” “Breaking even these days is a major accomplishment,” he quipped. Profits—the festival is a not-for profit—go into a contingency fund against disasters such as a complete rainout. “We have other disaster insurance, such as for the Stevie Wonder,” whom, he said, “did not cost as big dollars as you might expect.” Menard said that the press reports of C$1million for the show, “were not true. It cost us less that half that. It cost us the going rate for a medium size arena [concert], and [Wonder] gave us more. It was good night for us and good night for himself, as well.”

All the United States artists get paid in US$, what with the fluctuating exchange rate this year. “The magic of the festival is that we do two festivals at the same time, inside and out. Inside it’s rehearsed, sound-checked and the artists get to do full sets. Outdoors is more jamming. However, we can’t do it without all the different acts. When we began, even George Wein discouraged us. It was all fusion. Then Wynton [Marsalis] happened. Since then we have diversified and jazz has become more influential. How do we sell it? How do jazz musicians get paid? That’s another story.”

What does FIJM do for an encore? “Joni Mitchell,” Menard snapped back. She is, after all, Canadian.


Jazz trumpeter Freddie Hubbard dead at 70

LOS ANGELES (AFP) — Influential jazz trumpeter Freddie Hubbard has died in Los Angeles aged 70, his spokesman said.

Hubbard, who played alongside legendary figures such as John Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Art Blakey and Herbie Hancock, passed away in a Sherman Oaks, California hospital following complications from a heart attack suffered last month.

The Grammy-winning musician was renowned for his "hard bop" trumpet style found on several albums during the 1960s, most notably Ornette Coleman's "Free Jazz" and Coltrane's "Ascension." His trumpet-playing can be found in over 300 albums.

"He played faster, longer, higher and with more energy than any other trumpeter of his era," said fellow musician David Weiss.

Born in Indianapolis in 1938, Hubbard rose to fame after moving to New York at the age of 20, where his trademark improvisations and compositions quickly gained attention.

His breakthrough record, 1961's "Ready for Freddie", was the first of several successful collaborations with saxophonist Wayne Shorter.

Hubbard, who won a Grammy in 1972 for his album "First Light," was honored with the National Endowment for the Arts' Jazz Masters Award in 2006.

His last record, "On the Real Side," came out in June.


All About Jazz in Cape May for 30th Festival

Jon FaddisERMA -- Jon Faddis headlined the Friday night, Nov. 7 opening concert of the 30th Cape May Jazz Festival at Lower Cape May Regional High School Auditorium. He was backed by Atlantic City's Ed Vezinho/Jim Ward Big Band.

The set list was heavy on tunes made famous by the late Maynard Ferguson. The festival is a tribute to Ferguson.

Faddis thrilled the audience by hitting amazingly high notes on his trumpet. He played seated as a member of the 16-piece big band for much of the set.

Faddis was mentored by Dizzy Gillespie and played with Lionel Hampton and became lead trumpeter for the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band. He also toured with the Duke Ellington and Count Basie orchestras and played on over 500 albums.

The Ed Vezinho/Jim Ward Big Band played a rousing version of Ferguson's hit "Birdland" featuring Demetrios Pappas on keyboards and Jack Hegyi on bass.

The jazz festival continues through Sunday afternoon.

Saturday night's headliner concert features Pieces of a Dream performing at 8 p.m. at the high school auditorium. Free shuttle bus service is provided from Cape May where jam sessions begin at noon.


Concha Buika comes to the London Jazz Festival

The flamenco singer Concha Buika has a lust for life that makes Amy Winehouse look staid.

Concha Buika

Once heard, never forgotten. Concha Buika’s voice is one of the most glorious sounds to have emerged on the international stage in the past couple of years. All sorts of metaphors come to mind: blood-red wine, the sharpened blade of a knife, a cry of pain in a darkened church. The language barrier is really no hindrance at all. When you listen to the Spanish singer, you know instantly that you are in the presence of a rare talent.

She has a chance to convert a new audience this month when she appears at the London Jazz Festival, a season that has cannily expanded its range to include everything from the dub pioneer Dennis Bovell to the Afrobeat showman Femi Kuti (Fela's son) and that quirky string band Carolina Chocolate Drops. With its core audience increasingly made up of thirtysomethings feeling their way into jazz’s core repertoire, the event has made a virtue out of venturing to the periphery.

Ironically, despite being hailed as the queen of flamenco fusion, Buika thinks of herself as a jazz singer. Names of great American artists of the past — Coltrane, Ella, Dinah Washington and Betty Carter — are scattered through her conversation. We even devote part of our interview, conducted on a hotel terrace with a serene view of the Lisbon skyline, to a discussion about the relatively obscure Israeli bassist Avishai Cohen. Buika is infatuated with his music.

There are lots of things she loves, in fact. This is a woman who exudes passion and fire, who bursts into volcanic roars of gap-toothed laughter every few minutes. You sense she crams a week’s living into every 24 hours. When she tries to find a way to describe how she approaches her vocation, she eventually opts for one of the oldest metaphors of them all: “Art is like — sorry for the expression — f***ing,” she says in heavily accented English. “When I sing to you, I want to be inside you. That’s what films do, that’s what literature does. That’s music.”

Buika’s background is every bit as colourful as her philosophy of life. Born in Palma de Mallorca, she was raised in a poor, all-white neighbourhood where gypsy music and flamenco were part of the soundtrack of the streets. Her father, a left-wing activist and writer from equatorial Africa, returned home when she was still a child, leaving his six offspring to be raised in a strongly matriarchal atmosphere. (Her left arm bears the names, tattooed in her tribal language, of her mother, grandmother, aunts, sisters and nieces. “My muses,” she explains.)

Singing was a natural part of daily existence; her mother had a love for the recordings of Charles Aznavour, Sinatra and Miles Davis. In a house full of friends and music, Buika learnt to play guitar, piano and bass. More recently, she has taken up the cello.

Her career began when one of her aunts, a singer, pulled out of a local engagement and asked her to take her place. In the years that followed, Buika led a footloose existence, recording dance singles, playing all sorts of gigs and, at one stage, relocating to London and — believe it or not — Slough. Eight years ago, she even went to Las Vegas, where she found a niche as a Tina Turner tribute singer.

The mother of a young son, she was once part of a bisexual ménage à trois. All in all, she makes Amy Winehouse seem almost staid.

In retrospect, she sees her wanderings as part of a quest: “My voice is older than me. She was waiting for me. I wasn’t ready before.” She begins to laugh again. “Thank God, after 36 years, I see myself in the mirror and I recognise myself. That’s success.”

Her career hit its stride when she was taken under the wing of the renowned producer and songwriter Javier Limon — best known for overseeing the hit album Lagrimas Negras, a collaboration between the elderly Cuban pianist Bebo Valdes and the charismatic flamenco singer known as El Cigala. Buika’s 2005 album Mi Niña Lola proved a runaway success, Limon providing an elegant, jazz-tinged backdrop for the singer’s mesmerising vocals. Think of Billie Holiday mixed with a hint of the 1980s pop star Sade, and the spirit of the buleria, and you have some idea of the album’s range. The follow-up release, Niña de Fuego — which features a striking nude photograph of Buika on the cover — is every bit as accomplished.

She seems unaffected by all the attention. Working with Limon, she says, involves none of the usual record-label compromises. When she was first making her way in the world, she got used to tucking her wages down the front of her dress. Not much seems to have changed since then. What matters, she says, is “living with an open heart”.

Not that she neglects the technical side. Studying the cello is part of a mission to push herself as hard as she can as an artist and songwriter. She has no time for vocalists who do not trouble themselves with theory: “They complain there is a machismo in the music world. Then you ask, do you know about harmony? No. Do you compose? No. Do you play an instrument? No. I love the freedom playing an instrument brings. Can you imagine if, any time you needed to write, you had to ask someone to come to your house with a pencil? You are in jail. You are enslaved to someone.”

Concha Buika plays the QEH, SE1, on November 20; 0871 663 2505, www.londonjazzfestival.org.uk


The 29th edition of the Montreal International Jazz
Festival breaks records

Montreal International Jazz FestivalMONTREAL — The 29th edition of the Montreal International Jazz Festival has established a number of records, organizers said Monday.

Despite a rain-filled opening weekend, the annual festival sold a record $4 million in food, beverages and other merchandise. For the first time, the jazz fest sold $6 million in tickets and average attendance to its shows hit 80 per cent.

Festival organizer Alain Simard has promised a number of special events for the 2009 instalment.

Simard says he hopes to lure Joni Mitchell, who hasn't played in Montreal in 40 years, out of retirement.


Marcus Belgrave Octet to perform at Festival of the Fork

Ornette Coleman

The Festival of the Forks is pleased to announce that the Marcus Belgrave Octetwith vocalist Joan Bow will be theSaturday night headliner on Saturday, September 20 at 8 p.m. at the Victory Park band shell.

Since 2001 Marcus Belgrave has led his Tribute to Louis Armstrong octet, appearing in thirty states, Canada andPuerto Rico and playing Armstrong's music in pops programs with the Detroit Symphony and other US orchestras.

As a soloist, Marcus continues to travel the US for appearances at jazz festivals, night clubs and concert hall performances. In January 2006 he was featured on three concerts at Jazz at Lincoln Center's presentation Detroit: Motor City Jazz, later broadcast on National Public Radio.

In recognition of his outstanding artistry, vision, and life-long achievement in jazz education, Marcus Belgrave is the recipient of numerous honors including the Arts Midwest Jazz Master Award, the Michigan Governor's Arts Award, and the Louis Armstrong Award.


Pulitzer-winning Ornette Coleman performs at S.F. Jazz Festival

Ornette ColemanRAVE REVIEWS come a dime a dozen. Most artists can show off a big portfolio of glowing press clips — yet how many can say they've won a Pulitzer Prize?

One of the few, Ornette Coleman is set to perform once again as part of the San Francisco Jazz Festival on Sunday at the Masonic Center in San Francisco.

It's been a mighty big year for the saxophone master — not only did he win the Pulitzer for his "Sound Grammar" CD but he also scored a Lifetime Achievement Grammy.

Coleman, however, is far from ready to just sit back and rest on his impressive laurels. His set at last month's Monterey Jazz Festival was one of the weekend's most adventuresome and fulfilling moments.

Showtime is 7 p.m. Tickets are $25-$80. The Nob Hill Masonic Center is at 1111 California St. Call 866-920-JAZZ or visit http://www.sfjazz.org.


Washington Bars US Artists from International Jazz Festival in Cuba

Cuban International Jazz FestivalHavana, September 7 (acn) Cuba's Culture Minister Abel Prieto announced on Thursday that the US blockade obstructs the participation of renowned American jazz players in the Varadero Jam Session International Jazz Festival that began on Thursday in the central province of Matanzas.

"I'm sure that many of them would have liked to participate in this event but the arbitrary laws of the Bush Administration obstruct these cultural ties," he said.

Prieto recalled that before George W. Bush took office many Cuban and US artists were able to exchange their experiences and art in different events, but all this has been cancelled, he noted.

The Cuban official participated, along with Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero and the President of the festival Maestro 'Chucho' Valdes, in the opening of the Jam Session event.

Renowned Cuban and foreign artists are participating in the Jam Session Festival, which is intended to take place every other year in Varadero, alternating with other jazz events such as the Jazz Plaza and the JoJazz.

Jam Session will run until next Sunday at the Plaza America Convention Center, the House of Music and other cultural and tourist centers in Varadero.


Cuban Jazz Festival to Showcase Renowned Musicians

Chucho ValdesThe Jam Session Jazz Festival, to be held next September 6-9 in the locality of Varadero, central Matanzas province, will count on the participation of renowned Cuban musicians headed by maestro Chucho Valdes.

The list of jazz players include Jose Luis Cortes, the Lopez Nussa brothers Ernan and Harold, Bobby and Robertico Carcasses, the Sexto Sentido band among others who won the JoJazz contest, as well as many international figures.

The Jam Session Festival, which was born as a cooperation project between the Cuban ministries of Culture and Tourism, expects to alternate with the biennial international event known as Jazz Plaza which is attended by prestigious Cuban and international Jazz figures.

Concerts will take place at the Plaza America Conventions Center, the Piano Bar, the Mambo Club, all in Varadero, plus the Cardenas and the Sauto movie theaters, in the central province.

Jam Session will offer the opportunity both for musicians and the public to enjoy and evaluate the best of Jazz, said experts with the Cuban Music Institute. 

Max Roach, a Founder of Modern Jazz, Dies at 83

August 16, 2007

By PETER KEEPNEWS

Max RoachMax Roach, a founder of modern jazz who rewrote the rules of drumming in the 1940’s and spent the rest of his career breaking musical barriers and defying listeners’ expectations, died early today at his home in New York. He was 83.

His death was announced today by a spokesman for Blue Note records, on which he frequently appeared. No cause was given. Mr. Roach had been known to be ill for several years.

As a young man, Mr. Roach, a percussion virtuoso capable of playing at the most brutal tempos with subtlety as well as power, was among a small circle of adventurous musicians who brought about wholesale changes in jazz. He remained adventurous to the end.

Over the years he challenged both his audiences and himself by working not just with standard jazz instrumentation, and not just in traditional jazz venues, but in a wide variety of contexts, some of them well beyond the confines of jazz as that word is generally understood.

He led a “double quartet” consisting of his working group of trumpet, saxophone, bass and drums plus a string quartet. He led an ensemble consisting entirely of percussionists. He dueted with uncompromising avant-gardists like the pianist Cecil Taylor and the saxophonist Anthony Braxton. He performed unaccompanied. He wrote music for plays by Sam Shepard and dance pieces by Alvin Ailey. He collaborated with video artists, gospel choirs and hip-hop performers.

Mr. Roach explained his philosophy to The New York Times in 1990: “You can’t write the same book twice. Though I’ve been in historic musical situations, I can’t go back and do that again. And though I run into artistic crises, they keep my life interesting.”

He found himself in historic situations from the beginning of his career. He was still in his teens when he played drums with the alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, a pioneer of modern jazz, at a Harlem after-hours club in 1942. Within a few years, Mr. Roach was himself recognized as a pioneer in the development of the sophisticated new form of jazz that came to be known as bebop.

He was not the first drummer to play bebop — Kenny Clarke, 10 years his senior, is generally credited with that distinction — but he quickly established himself as both the most imaginative percussionist in modern jazz and the most influential.

In Mr. Roach’s hands, the drum kit became much more than a means of keeping time. He saw himself as a full-fledged member of the front line, not simply as a supporting player.

Layering rhythms on top of rhythms, he paid as much attention to a song’s melody as to its beat. He developed, as the jazz critic Burt Korall put it, “a highly responsive, contrapuntal style,” engaging his fellow musicians in an open-ended conversation while maintaining a rock-solid pulse. His approach “initially mystified and thoroughly challenged other drummers,” Mr. Korall wrote, but quickly earned the respect of his peers and established a new standard for the instrument.

Mr. Roach was an innovator in other ways. In the late 1950s, he led a group that was among the first in jazz to regularly perform pieces in waltz time and other unusual meters in addition to the conventional 4/4. In the early 1960s, he was among the first to use jazz to address racial and political issues, with works like the album-length “We Insist! Freedom Now Suite.”

In 1972, he became one of the first jazz musicians to teach full time at the college level when he was hired as a professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. And in 1988, he became the first jazz musician to receive a so-called genius grant from the MacArthur Foundation.

Maxwell Roach was born on Jan. 10, 1924, in the small town of New Land, N.C., and grew up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. He began studying piano at a neighborhood Baptist church when he was 8 and took up the drums a few years later.

Even before he graduated from Boys High School in 1942, savvy New York jazz musicians knew his name. As a teenager he worked briefly with Duke Ellington’s orchestra at the Paramount Theater and with Charlie Parker at Monroe’s Uptown House in Harlem, where he took part in jam sessions that helped lay the groundwork for bebop.

By the middle 1940’s, he had become a ubiquitous presence on the New York jazz scene, working in the 52nd Street nightclubs with Parker, the trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and other leading modernists. Within a few years he had become equally ubiquitous on record, participating in such seminal recordings as Miles Davis’s “Birth of the Cool” sessions in 1949 and 1950.

He also found time to study composition at the Manhattan School of Music. He had planned to major in percussion, he later recalled in an interview, but changed his mind after a teacher told him his technique
was incorrect. “The way he wanted me to play would have been fine if I’d been after a career in a symphony orchestra,” he said, “but it wouldn’t have worked on 52nd Street.”

Mr. Roach made the transition from sideman to leader in 1954, when he and the young trumpet virtuoso Clifford Brown formed a quintet. That group, which specialized in a muscular and stripped-down version of bebop that came to be called hard bop, took the jazz world by storm. But it was short-lived.

In June 1956, at the height of the Brown-Roach quintet’s success, Brown was killed in an automobile accident, along with Richie Powell, the group’s pianist, and Powell’s wife. The sudden loss of his friend and co-leader, Mr. Roach later recalled, plunged him into depression and heavy drinking from which it took him years to emerge.

Nonetheless, he kept working. He honored his existing nightclub bookings with the two surviving members of his group, the saxophonist Sonny Rollins and the bassist George Morrow, before briefly taking time off and putting together a new quartet. By the end of the 50’s, seemingly recovered from his depression, he was recording prolifically, mostly as a leader but occasionally as a sideman with Mr. Rollins and others.

The personnel of Mr. Roach’s working group changed frequently over the next decade, but the level of artistry and innovation remained high. His sidemen included such important musicians as the saxophonists Eric Dolphy, Stanley Turrentine and George Coleman and the trumpet players Donald Byrd, Kenny Dorham and Booker Little. Few of his groups had a pianist, making for a distinctively open ensemble sound in which Mr. Roach’s drums were prominent.

Always among the most politically active of jazz musicians, Mr. Roach had helped the bassist Charles Mingus establish one of the first musician-run record companies, Debut, in 1952. Eight years later, the two organized a so-called rebel festival in Newport, R.I., to protest the Newport Jazz Festival’s treatment of performers. That same year, Mr. Roach collaborated with the lyricist Oscar Brown Jr. on “We Insist! Freedom Now Suite,” which played variations on the theme of black people’s struggle for equality in the United States and Africa.

The album, which featured vocals by Abbey Lincoln (Mr. Roach’s frequent collaborator and, from 1962 to 1970, his wife), received mixed reviews: many critics praised its ambition, but some attacked it as overly polemical. Mr. Roach was undeterred.

“I will never again play anything that does not have social significance,” he told Down Beat magazine after the album’s release. “We American jazz musicians of African descent have proved beyond all doubt that we’re master musicians of our instruments. Now what we have to do is employ our skill to tell the dramatic story of our people and what we’ve been through.”

“We Insist!” was not a commercial success, but it emboldened Mr. Roach to broaden his scope as a composer. Soon he was collaborating with choreographers, filmmakers and Off Broadway playwrights on projects, including a stage version of “We Insist!”

As his range of activities expanded, his career as a bandleader became less of a priority. At the same time, the market for his uncompromising brand of small-group jazz began to diminish. By the time he joined the faculty of the University of Massachusetts in 1972, teaching had come to seem an increasingly attractive alternative to the demands of the musician’s life.

Joining the academy did not mean turning his back entirely on performing. In the early ‘70s, Mr. Roach joined with seven fellow drummers to form M’Boom, an ensemble that achieved tonal and coloristic variety through the use of xylophones, chimes, steel drums and other percussion instruments. Later in the decade he formed a new quartet, two of whose members — the saxophonist Odean Pope and the trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater — would perform and record with him off and on for more than two decades.

He also participated in a number of unusual experiments. He appeared in concert in 1983 with a rapper, two disc jockeys and a team of break dancers. A year later, he composed music for an Off Broadway production
of three Sam Shepard plays, for which he won an Obie Award. In 1985, he took part in a multimedia collaboration with the video artist Kit Fitzgerald and the stage director George Ferencz.

Perhaps his most ambitious experiment in those years was the Max Roach Double Quartet, a combination of his quartet and the Uptown String Quartet. Jazz musicians had performed with string accompaniment before, but rarely if ever in a setting like this, where the string players were an equal part of the ensemble and were given the opportunity to improvise. Reviewing a Double Quartet album in The Times in 1985, Robert Palmer wrote, “For the first time in the history of jazz recording, strings swing as persuasively as any saxophonist or drummer.”

This endeavor had personal as well as musical significance for Mr. Roach: the Uptown String Quartet’s founder and viola player was his daughter Maxine. She survives him, as do two other daughters, Ayo and Dara, and two sons, Raoul and Darryl.

By the early ‘90s, Mr. Roach had reduced his teaching load and was again based in New York year-round, traveling to Amherst only for two residencies and a summer program each year. He was still touring with his quartet as recently as 2000, and he also remained active as a composer. In 2002 he wrote and performed the music for “How to Draw a Bunny,” a documentary about the artist Ray Johnson.


New Orleans still on trumpeter's mind

Terence BlanchardThe music on Terence Blanchard's new album strikes close to home for the New Orleans trumpeter -- it was inspired by Hurricane Katrina.

Blanchard's latest album, "A Tale of God's Will (A Requiem for Katrina)," comes directly out of the plight of the post-hurricane Crescent City and is an outgrowth of Blanchard's work on Spike Lee's acclaimed HBO documentary "When the Levees Broke."

"We had all this material we couldn't use," in the film, says Blanchard, who was teaching at the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz in Los Angeles and got his wife and four children out of New Orleans just before the hurricane hit. The family has subsequently returned to the city.

"The record was reliving the whole thing for me in a lot of regards, of course. It put me back in that space, stories friends told me they endured. I'm not gonna lie to you; it was hard."

Despite the personal nature of the project, Blanchard says the members of his band helped considerably with the arrangements and orchestrations on the album.

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