Other segments from the episode on October 26, 2007
DATE October 25, 2007 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Steve Levine discusses his new book "The Oil and the
Glory: the Pursuit of Empire and Fortune on the Caspian Sea,"
about the high-stake political gamesmanship to get access to and
control rich oil resources in Caspian Sea
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Despite its unprecedented profits, big oil is on the decline. Meanwhile,
petro-states like Kazakhstan and Russia are demanding and obtaining more
control over their own oil fields and increasingly marginalizing the
once-omnipotent oil majors. This is what my guest, journalist Steve Levine,
writes in his blog. He also has a lot to say about how oil figures into
Vladimir Putin's politics, and how Putin is trying to position himself on the
Iranian nuclear issue. In Levine's new book "The Oil and the Glory," he
reports on the struggles for control of oil in the Caspian region and how that
has changed the energy industry and geopolitics. The countries that border
the Caspian Sea are Russia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan.
Steve Levine covered central Asia and the Caucasus for 11 years. He ran The
Wall Street Journal bureau for the region, and before that covered it for The
New York Times. After September 11th he did some work with Daniel Pearl and
later helped investigate Pearl's kidnapping and beheading. He was portrayed
in the film, "A Mighty Heart."
Steve Levine, welcome to FRESH AIR. How much oil is at stake in the Caspian
Mr. STEVE LEVINE: There's a minimum of 30 billion barrels of recoverable oil
in the entire Caspian, and probably much more. And a way of understanding
that is that when the biggest fields come online finally in the next five or
10 years, there will be approximately five million barrels of oil per day
coming onto the world market from there, and that's the difference between
surplus and shortage on the world market, which is where prices go up or down.
And so it's really a very important volume.
GROSS: So tell us more about how the future of oil can be changed by the
Mr. LEVINE: There are a couple of things. One is that the Caspian, again,
is this player on the margin. It's a region that's not connected to the
Persian Gulf. And so it's not vulnerable to the politics, to the wars, to
that whole cauldron of events going on all over the Middle East. And so, in
that, it's an independent source of oil. It is a pro-Western, a strongly
pro-Western area. And so it will play along with the politics that the West
tends to play.
And in addition, in a sense that I think everyone can understand, it's the
last hurrah, really, of big oil. This is a region that has straddled the era
when big oil made policy, brought governments to power all over the world.
And now, when big oil is really weak and is in a decline, really, it's
deceptive. It looks like it's very powerful, the profits are so big, but it's
in a slow decline right now.
GROSS: Now, you say that the countries on the Caspian Sea are pro-Western,
but one of the countries is Iran and another is Russia. Iran is definitely
not pro-Western, and Russia it's sometimes hard to tell like where they are.
So it's more ambiguous than that, don't you think?
Mr. LEVINE: Well, sure. But when we speak of Caspian oil, really
we're--it's true Russia and Iran are on that sea, but the oil that we're
talking about is from the other three states surrounding that sea:
Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan. And it's their oil and their natural
gas that will make this difference. And the US, for a number of years, has
put itself, as a strategic policy, behind them to make sure that their energy
gets to the West.
GROSS: Now, in looking at oil and the Caspian Sea, let's look for a moment at
Russia and Iran. Does their relationship become clearer if you look at oil?
Mr. LEVINE: Sure. It seems pretty clear to me what they're all about. They
are both trying to be voices and powers on the world stage. They both see
themselves as historically and culturally important players in the world, and
they want to be seen that way now. And they resent the United States having
this superpower, unipower position in the world, and they have linked together
on a number of issues, the main one being oil, another one being nuclear
power, in order to assert their voice in the world.
GROSS: I'm want to quote you something that Garry Kasparov said on Bill
Maher's show "Politically Incorrect" last week. And for our listeners who
haven't been following Kasparov who, up until this point was most famous as a
chess master, is now very famous as a dissident in Russia, and he is running
for president, and is being very outspoken against Putin. So he said on
Friday night, "Bush tried to play psychiatrist and look at Putin's eyes,
searching his soul instead of looking at his record. And now Putin is
spitting in Bush's face by making his open friendship with Ahmadinejad. But
Putin has only one item in his political agenda, he needs high oil prices.
And tension in the Middle East helps him to keep oil prices high. So that's
why he sells nuclear technology to Iran, he sells missiles to Hezbollah and
Hamas via Syria because it helps Putin stay in power. If the oil price goes
down, Putin goes down." What do you make of that analysis? Do you think that
that's an accurate analysis?
Mr. LEVINE: Well, I think it's self serving to a certain degree for
Kasparov, certainly. But there's a kernel of truth there, the kernel being
that what Russia is today, what Putin is today is a reflection of high oil
prices. Russia is a new power on the world stage because it has so much
money. His analysis that somehow Putin is conspiring to keep them high, to
keep there being tension in the Middle East and between the West and Iran, I
think that goes a little bit over the top. But the essence of what he says,
that Putin is spitting in the face of the West and the basis of his power,
this is true. And the other thing is that it's really a long point that one
has to understand. When you look at the last 15 years, when you look at what
Russia and the United States have been through on the Caspian Sea, the
conflict, the struggle for geopolitical power in that region, this is all
about Russia doing exactly that. And Putin is the manifestation of the
current change in geopolitics.
GROSS: So oil profits have really changed the Russian economy and the life of
middle class Russians?
Mr. LEVINE: There are two components here. One is, what have high oil
prices done for the average Russian? And it's true that Russians are living
better then they ever have. They have more money. They have more disposable
income. And this is one of the main reasons why Putin is so popular at home
and why he can carry out the kind of politics domestic and overseas politics
that he does.
But the other component is, it is extremely popular at home to go around, as
Kasparov said, spitting in the face of the West. They love this, the whole
idea of making the United States uncomfortable around the world, this plays
very well at home. And, look, the Russians and that whole former Soviet
region, they're not friends with Iran. They don't--they're as nervous as the
West is about Iran. Really, this is what you hear when you're there. But it
is convenient for Putin, with his geopolitical aspirations, to ally with Iran
on these questions.
GROSS: Why is it convenient for him? What does he get from it?
Mr. LEVINE: Iran is the American hot button. Nothing sends Dick Cheney or
George Bush into a frenzy than Iran, the whole question of Iran and the
nuclear weapons. And they cannot stand that Ahmadinejad goes around sticking
his chest out and poking his eye in the West. And by Putin allying with
Ahmadinejad and Ahmadinejad allying with Putin, it makes both of them
stronger. And specifically on the oil question, they are, to a certain
degree, halting or slowing development of oil in these other Caspian nations
by allying, by telling these other republics, for example, you cannot install
a pipeline crossing the Caspian Sea delivering Kazakhstan's enormous oil
reserves and Turkmenistan's enormous natural gas reserves to Europe, which
would help to change the geopolitical balance in Europe and help the United
States there. And because they ally--they have managed, at least for now, to
halt the construction of this very important pipeline.
GROSS: So as the story with Iran continues to play out, what are you looking
for when you look at the relationship between Russia and Iran?
Mr. LEVINE: I'm curious at Putin's approach to Iran and the other republics.
A meeting that happened a week ago between them, where Putin made a big show
about demonstrating that he was Iran's friend, very public friend. `We will
not serve as a staging ground to attack you.' I just wonder if Putin--Putin
craves international recognition. He wants to appear like the bad boy abroad
because it plays so well at home. But at the same time, Russia historically,
and Russia now, has always craved the respect and felt that it never got it.
Imagine if Putin were able to broker a deal that satisfied the United States
and Europe and satisfied Iran on the nuclear question, how he would look. He
would look like a hero. And he would finally win the deference to a certain
degree, diplomatic deference abroad. He would be a real player rather than a
gadfly. And I've had the sneaking suspicion that this is what he's after.
GROSS: My guest is journalist Steve Levine. His new book is called "The Oil
and the Glory: the Pursuit of Empire and Fortune on the Caspian Sea." We'll
talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Steve Levine. He's the author
of the new book "The Oil and the Glory: the Pursuit of Empire and Fortune on
the Caspian Sea." He reported from that region for 11 years. For the last
three he ran The Wall Street Journal's bureau there. He also reported from
there for The New York Times.
There have been meetings going on between a consortium of the big oil
companies, the big Western oil companies, and Kazakhstan over this giant oil
field in Kazakhstan called the Kashagan oil field. What's the importance of
this oil field, and what are the negotiations about?
Mr. LEVINE: Well, the importance of the field, the Kashagan field, is that
it's the largest oil discovery anywhere on the planet in the last 30 or 40
years. It is a field, enormous field, with at least 13 billion barrels
of--just to make that clear, a giant oil field--this term "giant" is one
billion barrels. So here you have 13 times that in this one field. And
that's the main significance.
And the big oil companies love this field. This is a chance for them, first
of all, to have a lot of oil, but also oil men are not just in this game for
the money or else they could go into banking. The engineers and the
geologists, these are romantics. And they see a lot of romance about this
field. And the current negotiations are a national conflict. The oil
companies are at least five years behind their contractual commitment for
delivering the first oil from the field. They're more than twice over budget
on the spending. And this really irritates the Kazakhs, because it means that
all of these plans that they've made for building the country for spending and
for lining pockets is delayed for at least five years.
But it's also, in a larger sense, it's an assertion, it's a phenomenon that
we're seeing today, these countries like Venezuela and Russia and now
Kazakhstan, that are far more assertive on the world stage and at home
regarding ownership of their natural resources. This is the latest example of
that. And these oil companies are having to mollify the Kazakhs, and it's
also a sign of the times. We are seeing the last years, really the last
decade or two, of these big oil companies as we know them today. And this
negotiation, really, it illustrates that changing of the guard where the big
petrol powers in the world are going to be states, Kazakhstan, Russia,
Venezuela, the Saudis, and not Exxon and Chevron and BP and Shell.
GROSS: So the oil companies aren't writing the rules. The countries are more
and more trying to write the rules and telling the oil companies what they can
do and what they can't and what they're expected to achieve.
Mr. LEVINE: Yes. Yes, that's exactly right. And really the best window
into this phenomena, this dynamic, that's going on right now is this
negotiation over the Kazakhstan field. It's really--what's happening is that
the oil companies are being turned into employees. They are, in our
lifetimes, not going to be swaggering, testosterone-driven companies. They
are going to be mousy employees of state oil companies like the Kazakhstan oil
GROSS: Several of the Caspian states and the Unites States would like to see
a pipeline built for Caspian oil that would bypass Russia. Why do Caspian
states and the Unites States want to see that happen?
Mr. LEVINE: The short answer is that Russia has spent the whole post-Soviet
period strangling the economies of Central Asia, of the caucuses, of these
Caspian states. And the way that it's done it is through its control of most
of the natural gas and oil pipelines leaving the region going to the West.
Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan cannot export a single barrel of oil
or a cubic meter of natural gas without crossing into Russia. Azerbaijan is
in a better place. It has an independent pipeline. But Turkmenistan and
Kazakhstan are really stuck. And so the idea is to build an independent
natural gas pipeline and possibly a companion oil pipeline leading from
Turkmenistan across the sea, the Caspian Sea, going west to Azerbaijan and
then on to Europe, the idea being that this provides financial, economic
independence to these states and, therefore, political independence.
GROSS: There's a picture in your book of Kazakhstan's new capital that was
built with oil money. And it's incredible looking. I mean, why don't you
describe a little bit about what Kazakhstan has done with some of its oil
wealth in giving the country, or at least parts of it, a new look.
Mr. LEVINE: The president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, decided, like
a lot of new presidents do in small countries around the world, `I'm going to
move the capital.' He has a Peter the Great complex and wanted to build a new
capital on the steppe and he did. Astana is the name. And it looks like
Disneyland. It was a malarial, swampy, windswept, flat, just horrendous
place. This was the capital of Kruschev's virgin lands program. It's a place
where you wouldn't want to go. And he decided this was going to be the place.
And at first it was kind of a joke. Back in the '90s, it was a Potemkin
village. They plastered vinyl on the fronts and the sides of the building's
fronting the main boulevard running through town so it would look new. But
then you go around the back of the building, on the other side of the
building, and it's the old, decrepit look. And you walk two blocks from the
center and people have no heat, no electricity, and there are cows and goats
everywhere and huge mosquitos. But over time, it is amazing. It is a very
impressive place, depending, you know, what your taste is in architecture.
And if you wanted to do a deal, an oil deal, during the late 1990s and, you
know, after 2000, Nazarbayev made you put money, tens of millions of dollars,
into the fund to make the capital.
GROSS: So are those vinyl facades there now, or is that before the capital
Mr. LEVINE: No, that's--when the capital was declare--when Astana was
declared the new capital, this was the first thing that was done, the vinyl.
Now, I say, that's changed. They've got the vinyl all the way around the
buildings now. But for a long time, yeah, that's how it looked.
GROSS: Mm-hmm. Steve Levine, thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr. LEVINE: Thank you, Terry.
GROSS: Steve Levine's new book is called "The Oil and the Glory: the Pursuit
of Empire and Fortune on the Caspian Sea." I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Terence Blanchard, a New Orleans trumpeter and
composer, talks about his music and how he got involved
writing scores for movies
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
My guest Terence Blanchard is a trumpeter and composer who got his start in
Art Blakey's band, and got started writing film music working with Spike Lee.
Blanchard composed the scores for several Spike Lee films, including "Inside
Man," "25th Hour," "Malcom X" and "When the Levees Broke," Lee's documentary
about Hurricane Katrina.
Blanchard's new CD is called "A Tale of God's Will: a Requiem for Katrina."
He'll perform music from that CD with the New Orleans Philharmonic November
3rd. Here's a track from the CD titled "Dear Mom."
(Soundbite of "Dear Mom")
GROSS: When I recorded my interview with Terence Blanchard earlier this
month, we didn't know that we'd be running it at a time when thousands of
Californians would be dealing with a catastrophic set of fires that, like
Katrina, have left many people homeless.
Terence Blanchard and his mother were featured in Spike Lee's documentary
about Katrina. They were shown returning to her home in New Orleans for the
first time after the hurricane. It's the home Terence Blanchard grew up in.
I want to play that scene, but since we'll just be hearing it, not seeing it,
I'll let Blanchard describe what's happening.
Mr. TERENCE BLANCHARD: When we first got there, there were--I had some other
concerns that I never told anybody about, because my mom had told me a story
about a cousin of ours who had gone into her home and it was pretty dark when
she went in and she thought the floor was moving. And when she looked down
there were snakes in the home.
Mr. BLANCHARD: So I was a little nervous about that. I didn't know what to
expect. I was also nervous and fearful of the air inside the home. So I was
trying to put a mask on. You don't see that in the documentary. My mom got
frustrated so she didn't want the mask on. So I was totally fearful of her
contracting something, you know, in her respiratory system, you know, but...
GROSS: She's wearing a mask in part of this scene.
Mr. BLANCHARD: She didn't have on the mask that I tried to put on. I mean,
Mr. BLANCHARD: There was a heavy duty professional mask...
GROSS: I see. I see.
Mr. BLANCHARD: ...that I tried to give my mother and she's like no, no, no,
no. So we put the little mask on. And I was so nervous about all of that.
But the other thing that I was worried about was my mom stepping through all
of the debris, you know, because my mom is not a tall woman at all. And, you
know, there was a lot of debris to step over. I don't know if--I can't
remember if you can see it in the documentary. But the furniture was
everywhere in the house. And my mom was so emotional that she was just
walking through the house without waiting for me to assist her, you know,
stepping through all of the rubble. So that was another concern.
And the other thing was, look, I mean, my mom was crushed, you know. And the
thing that I kept thinking about--if you watch the documentary, that I just
have this nervous chant of "we can rebuild this, we can rebuild this,"
because, you know, I don't want--I didn't want to see my mom hurt like that.
Nobody wants to experience that, you know. And I tried to ease her hurt as
best I could at that moment, which, you know, it wasn't much help at that
particular moment because she had to experience that.
GROSS: Let's hear the scene from Spike Lee's documentary "When the Levees
Broke." And my guest is Terence Blanchard. He scored that movie. And his new
CD, "A Tale of God's Will," features music from the film as well as new music.
So this is the scene in which he escorts his mother back to her home after the
hurricane, and it's the first time she's seen it since the hurricane.
(Soundbite from "When the Levees Broke")
Unidentified Woman: Oh, mercy. Oh, look, look, look. This thing's way over
Mr. BLANCHARD: What is that?
Woman: That's the thing you gave me was over here. What is that over there?
Mr. BLANCHARD: What is what?
Mr. BLANCHARD: That's a--it looks--that looks like your China closet.
Woman: The China closet don't have any business being over here. It's in the
Mr. BLANCHARD: I know.
Woman: Oh, all the pictures I had in there. (Unintelligible)...pictures
still up on the wall?
Mr. BLANCHARD: There's nothing on the wall.
Woman: Lord have mercy.
Mr. BLANCHARD: You can rebuild this stuff, though.
Woman: Yeah, that's easier said than done.
(Soundbite of woman sobbing)
Mr. BLANCHARD: OK. (Unintelligible).
(Soundbite of woman sobbing)
Woman: Oh, God, have mercy. Oh!
(Soundbite of ragged breathing)
Woman: Oh, I knew there was devastation, but I didn't think it was this bad.
Mr. BLANCHARD: I didn't know how bad it was.
Today, you know, when we went into the house, that was really hard because,
you know, it's like I can't go home. You know what I mean? It's...
(Soundbite of faint sobbing)
Mr. BLANCHARD: I'm sorry.
(Soundbite of music)
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: That's Terence Blanchard and his mother in a scene from the Spike Lee
documentary "When the Levees Broke."
Terence, did you grow up in that house?
Mr. BLANCHARD: Yeah. The thing that you need to know about that house is,
while we were walking through it, the front part of the house, the thing I
kept thinking of was that's the area my father used to make me practice, day
in and day out, on my piano studies, walking through the hall, all of those
doors we passed by were the doors that use to slam shut when my father would
play his operatic music in the front and everybody was trying to find a bit of
peace and quiet.
There were a lot of memories that I was experiencing walking through the house
at that particular moment. It was very bizarre to see it in that condition.
To think that that could happen in my neighborhood was just something that we
could never fathom. And I was profoundly frustrated and angry, you know, at
the thought that when I stepped outside, the train tracks in the neighborhood,
which is used for commercial use, was above sea level. You know, the water
never rose above those train tracks. So at the same time that the city was
under--that particular neighborhood was underwater, commerce could still
function, people could still make money, you know, and to think that somebody
knew that there was a possibility that this could happen--I don't know. It
was a hard thing to experience, you know.
GROSS: Well, why don't we hear another track from your latest CD, which is
called "A Tale of God's Will: a Requiem for Katrina." And this is one of the
compositions that was written for the CD as opposed to some of the
compositions on this CD that were actually written for the Spike Lee
documentary "When the Levees Broke." So we're going to hear "Ghost of Congo
Square." Tell us the story behind this piece.
Mr. BLANCHARD: Well, you know, when we were in the studio recording music
for the CD, you know, I kept hearing this phrase in my head, `this is a tale
of God's will.' And the guys were in the studio actually were just jamming.
And it was just bass and saxophone and we're sort of getting sounds on
instruments. And the bassist, the saxophonist started to play and they just
did this little duo thing, and I said, wow, the idea of the ghost came to me.
And then I started thinking about Congo Square and I started thinking about
how, you know, slaves and freedmen of color and all different types of people
would congregate in Congo Square, and that's an area of New Orleans where it
is said that jazz originated. And I thought about all those spirits and all
of those souls who probably tried to give us warning, fair warning, about what
could possibly happen in New Orleans because we'd been bypassed so many times
by major hurricanes, and we weren't listening. So I decided to come up with
these ghosts, and the first ghost that we hear on the CD is the ghost of Congo
GROSS: Well, here it is from Terence Blanchard's CD "A Tale of God's Will."
(Soundbite of "Ghost of Congo Square")
Unidentified Singer: (Singing) This is a tale of God's will
This is a tale of God's will
This is a tale of God's will
This is a tale of God's will
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: That's music from Terence Blanchard's new CD, "A Tale of God's Will:
a Requiem for Katrina." We'll talk more with Blanchard after a break. This is
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is trumpeter and composer Terence
Blanchard. And he'll be performing on November 3rd with the New Orleans
Philharmonic music that he composed for Spike Lee's documentary about Katrina,
"When the Levees Broke," and music from his CD "A Tale of God's Will: a
Requiem for Katrina." And then on December 8th he'll be at the Kennedy Center,
playing some of that music as well as doing a retrospective of other scores
that he wrote for Spike Lee movies.
I'd like to talk with you about writing movie music, and to start off, I'd
like to play the theme that you wrote for a movie Spike Lee directed called
Mr. BLANCHARD: Hm.
GROSS: I just particularly love this piece of music. And the movie stars
Edward Norton as a drug dealer who's been convicted and has 24 hours before he
starts serving his seven year sentence. Would you talk a little bit about
composing this theme and the mood that you wanted to get?
Mr. BLANCHARD: Well, the interesting thing--I have to back up a bit--the
interesting thing about working with Spike is that, you know, we have this
very interesting way of working, you know. Spike will ask me for--to submit,
you know, a number of themes. And I'll send him a CD of--let's say if I send
him a CD of maybe seven or eight themes, he starts to assign those themes to
The interesting thing with Spike is that when I started to think about this
movie, like I've done in the past with all of his movies, I will come up with
certain ideas hoping that he will pick this one as the main theme or this one
for this character, and he never does. He always mixes them up, which is
great because then it poses a different challenge for me. So if you
listen--if you watch Brian Cox's character, that theme is the theme that I
actually had written as the main theme for "25th Hour." This theme is
something that I had written for someone else, and I can't remember now. And
this is the brilliance of Spike because he can hear things outside of the area
of what a musician would hear. He hears it as a voyeur, and he has a more
universal approach to it. So it stretches you a bit.
GROSS: Let's hear just like an excerpt of the theme that you wrote for "25th
(Soundbite of theme music for "25th Hour")
GROSS: That's an excerpt of the theme composed by Terence Blanchard for Spike
Lee's film "25th Hour." What I want to do, now that we've heard the actual
Mr. BLANCHARD: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: ...and this theme is kind of replayed in variations, you know,
throughout the movie. I want our listeners to hear it with dialogue behind
it. It's really more of a monologue. What's happening in this scene is that,
you know, Edward Norton is the drug dealer who has 24 hours before going to
prison for seven years. And in this scene, his father, played by Brian Cox,
is driving him to prison. Those 24 hours have ended. And I want to play an
excerpt of that scene with Brian Cox and your music behind him.
(Soundbite of "25th Hour")
Mr. BRIAN COX: (As James) We'll drive. Keep driving. Head out to the
middle of nowhere. Take that road as far it takes us. You've never been west
of Philly, have you? This is a beautiful country, Monty. It's beautiful out
there. It looks like a different world: mountains, hills, cows, farms and
I drove out west with your mother one time, before you was born.
(Unintelligible)...to the Pacific in three days, just enough money for gas,
sandwiches and coffee. But we made it. Every man, woman and child alive
should see the desert one time before they die. Nothing at all for miles
around, nothing but sand or rocks and cactus, blue sky, not a soul in sight,
no sirens, no car alarms, nobody honking at you, no madmen cursing or pissing
on the streets. You find the silence out there. You find the peace. You can
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: That's Brian Cox in a scene from "The 25th Hour," the music composed
by my guest Terence Blanchard.
I just think that's a really perfect film moment.
Mr. BLANCHARD: Mm.
GROSS: There's such beautiful interaction between the voice and the music.
When did you first see the scene?
Mr. BLANCHARD: Well, the first version of the scene--there were a few
versions that I'd seen--it was very early on in the editing process. That's
the thing that's kind of cool about working with Spike, once Spike starts to
edit, even before he starts to edit, he will fly me up or send me footage and
make sure I get a chance to see something. And the thing that he told me
about this film, which was very important, was he kept telling me there's not
going to be a lot of, what do you call it, source music, you know. It was
going to be mostly score. And he said it's going to culminate with this long
scene at the end, that's going to, you know, bring it all together. So he
wanted me to keep all of that in mind when writing the music.
But the main thing about that particular scene is that--I remember now, you
know, my thought was, you know, it has to be a heart-wrenching thing for a
father to watch his son go to jail. And the natural inclination, just like in
the documentary with my mother, was to ease her pain, and he's trying to ease
his son's pain. He's trying to find something, some solution to this problem.
So I tried to, even though it's the main theme of the film, I tried to write
the music based around the father's emotional state.
GROSS: Are there places that writing film music have led you that you
otherwise never would have gone musically?
Mr. BLANCHARD: Oh, yes, indeed. I mean, the thing about working in film is
that it's allowed me to work in areas that I never would have been able to
experience just by being a jazz musician. Writing for orchestra, writing for
different--other types of musical situations. I just did a film called "Talk
To Me" with Don Cheadle.
Mr. BLANCHARD: And that music, it's all based around 70's R&B. You know, so
we got a chance to do that as well. And all of that stuff has broadened my
musical experience and awareness. And it's been a great road to follow, you
know, in this artistic endeavor of mine.
GROSS: At what point in your life did you actually start hearing the music in
Mr. BLANCHARD: Well...
GROSS: Like really paying attention?
Mr. BLANCHARD: Well, the first time I really heard the score to a film was a
film called "Chinatown." Because I remember the trumpet melody was just a very
beautiful thing. The next film was, oddly enough, "Star Wars," you know,
because of all the brass fanfare. But I still wasn't really--I hadn't been
bitten by the bug yet, you know. It wasn't until I actually started working
with Spike and his father was writing music that I even thought about becoming
a film composer because, prior to that, even though I loved the music, I just
didn't see a way for me to enter into that business. So it wasn't something
that I was thinking about. But when I worked with Spike just as a session
player and his father was writing the music, I was like, wow, this is an
interesting process to witness. I said I'd like to get a chance at this.
And, lo and behold, I did.
GROSS: That's Spike's father, the bass player and composer Bill Lee. So you
were in the band playing the score.
Mr. BLANCHARD: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: How did you go from that to actually writing for Spike Lee?
Mr. BLANCHARD: Well, we were doing the music to "Mo' Better Blues" and we
had to do some pre-records for all the band to shoot to. And we had taken a
break in the studio, and I went over to the piano and I started playing a
piece that I was working on for my own recording situation for Columbia
Records. And Spike heard it and he said, `Man, I love that. What is that?'
And I said, `That's a tune that I've written for the kids who were massacred
in South Africa, it's called "Sing Soweto."' And he said, `Well, man, can I
use it?' And I said, `sure.' So he asked me to write an orchestral arrangement
And once I wrote the arrangement, I brought it to the studio and I thought
that Spike's father was going to conduct it since he had been conducting all
the other things. And Spike's father looked at me--and I forgot about this,
and Spike reminded me of this years later--Spike's father looks at me and he
goes, you know, `You wrote it, you conduct it.' And that was my first time
conducting an orchestra in a studio. And once we recorded it, Spike came out
and told me, he says, `You have a future in this business.' And at the time
that he said that I thought he was just being nice, you know, trying to
encourage me. But to my surprise, about a month or two later, he called me to
do the music to "Jungle Fever," and that's how my film career started.
GROSS: My guest is trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard. His latest CD
is called "A Tale of God's Will: a Requiem for Katrina." We'll talk more
after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: My guest is trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard. His latest CD
is called "A Tale of God's Will: a Requiem for Katrina."
When you were growing up in New Orleans, you studied with Ellis Marsalis,
Wynton and Branford's father.
Mr. BLANCHARD: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: Is that how you first heard of Wynton?
Mr. BLANCHARD: Yeah. Well, no, actually, let me back up. Before I started
studying with Ellis, I met Wynton and Branford when we were in elementary
school. We went to Loyola University's summer music program. I think Wynton
was going into sixth grade, I was going into fifth grade, and Branford was two
years older than me. So we were in that summer music program for a couple of
weeks running around Loyola's campus.
GROSS: When Wynton left Art Blakey's band, I think it was he who suggested
that you take his place.
Mr. BLANCHARD: Mm-hmm. Yeah. They had open auditions and I was going to
Rutgers University at the time. And he came--he said `Look, you know, T, why
don't you come up and audition for the band?' And prior to that I had met Art
through Wynton, Wynton went and told Art, he said, `This is my homeboy from
New Orleans, he's a trumpet player as well.' So I was at a club called Fat
Tuesday's where Donald Harrison and myself auditioned for the band and won the
GROSS: So you dropped out of college to join Art Blakey's band. Did you have
any reservations about dropping out?
Mr. BLANCHARD: No. I had no reservations about dropping out of college.
Everybody else had reservations about me dropping out of college. My father
had a big problem with it. The dean of the music program at the school had a
big problem with it because I was not only a jazz major but also a classical
major. And he kept telling me, `You have the ability to be one of the first
guys to have a major in blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.' But I told him, I said,
`Yeah, but the opportunity to play with Art Blakey is a once-in-a-lifetime
thing.' And I thought that the school would always be there, but not the
opportunity to play with Art Blakey. So I jumped at the chance to do that.
And, you know, my father had a problem with it for a number of years. But,
you know, we reconciled our relationship. I remember him telling me that he
was proud of me in terms of following my own direction. And he was extremely
happy that I did what I did in the long run.
GROSS: What was Blakey's approach to leading the band when you were in it?
Like, was he into like a lot of rehearsals, was he into like disciplining,
like having a lot of like band discipline?
Mr. BLANCHARD: None of the above.
GROSS: Was he relaxed about that? None of the above.
Mr. BLANCHARD: He was very relaxed. I mean, the thing you have to realize
is that his personality was so strong musically he didn't need to be
disciplined. He didn't need to crack the whip. His musical style already did
that. You know, we came to that situation with so much respect for him, his
main thing was to try to calm us down and to just let us experience being in
that band and to make sure we were working at our craft. He always wanted us
to compose music for the band.
It was an interesting period because we came to the band constantly wanting to
play some of those old arrangements from the bands in the past. And his thing
was, no, write your own music, put your own stamp on this band and, you know,
put your own stamp on this version of the Jazz Messengers. That was his way
of teaching us. You know, he let us compose the music. You know, I became
the musical director of the band. He told me I needed the responsibility of
knowing how to lead a band. And he just gave us every opportunity to make as
many mistakes as we could. And the thing about it, once we made those
mistakes, he was fine. He loved the fact that we would made the mistakes in
an attempt to try to do something creative. His thing was, you know, you have
to be working at something to move forward in this business.
GROSS: It sounds like Art Blakey College.
Mr. BLANCHARD: Exactly. The School of Art Blakey is what it was called.
GROSS: So what's some of the best advice he gave you?
Mr. BLANCHARD: Well, some of the best advice he gave me is a mantra that I
preach to my guys. You know, he used to tell us all the time, he says, look,
man, you can never become too arrogant in this business. He said you have to
remember, you don't speak above--you don't play your music above anybody's
head, you don't play beneath them, you play right to them. You know, and that
means just to be honest and just to be yourself. Trying to do something that
you think people want or think, you know, they want you to be is not being
true to your soul and to your responsibilities as an artist.
GROSS: Well, I want to thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr. BLANCHARD: Thank you for having me. It's been a pleasure.
GROSS: Terence Blanchard's latest CD is called "A Tale of God's Will: a
Requiem for Katrina." He'll perform music from it with the New Orleans
Philharmonic November 3rd.
You can download podcasts of our show by going to our Web site,
I'm Terry Gross. We'll close with music from a 1982 album by Art Blakey and
the Jazz Messengers featuring the 19-year-old Terence Blanchard making his
(Soundbite of music)
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