The latest movie score by New Orleans composer, trumpeter and Grammy-winning recording artist Terence Blanchard graces the drama “Black or White,” opening Friday.
Filmed in New Orleans, “Black or White” stars Kevin Costner and Octavia Spencer. The two Oscar winners play maternal and paternal grandparents engaged in a custody fight for their granddaughter.
Blanchard’s dozens of feature film and documentary scores include the 2012 military drama “Red Tails,” 2008’s “Cadillac Records,” 2002’s “Barber Shop” and, one of the 15 Spike Lee movies he’s scored, 2006’s “When The Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts.”
Blanchard and local jazz and classical musicians recorded the “Black or White” soundtrack at Esplanade Studios. Principal photography for the film took place in New Orleans in the summer of 2013.
“Black or White” reunites Costner with Mike Binder, the writer-director under whom Costner starred in the 2005 drama, “The Upside of Anger.”
“They cover a lot of ground,” five-time Grammy winner Blanchard said of the new Costner-Binder collaboration.
In “Black or White,” the unexpected death of the wife of Costner’s character, Elliott Anderson, prompts a custody dispute. When the grieving Elliott begins drinking heavily, Spencer’s Rowena Jeffers, a formidable businesswoman and matriarch, believes her granddaughter should live with her. New Orleans native Anthony Mackie co-stars as Rowena’s brother, Jeremiah Jeffers, the attorney she recruits for the custody fight. New Orleans plays the part of Los Angeles.
“Black or White” is a special film, Blanchard said.
“It starts off as kind of like a feel-good story and it ends up as a feel-good story,” he said. “But it doesn’t shy away from some tough issues.”
Blanchard’s film career began after he played lead trumpet for Lee’s 1990 film, “Mo’ Better Blues.” The director invited Blanchard to write the score for 1991’s “Jungle Fever.” Before he wrote a note, Blanchard consulted Roger Dickerson, the Pulitzer Prize-nominated composition teacher with whom he studied at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts.
“I’m like, ‘Yo, yo! I’ve got this project I’ve got to do,’ ” Blanchard remembered. “ ‘What do I do? I need your help.’ ”
Blanchard quickly found his way, based in part upon Dickerson’s self-expression-based philosophy. The aspiring film composer realized that movie scoring is the ideal vehicle for expressing himself. The scoring process also allows jazz musician Blanchard to explore a different medium, using orchestra or any musical configuration that fits the project.
Each film and each director requires a customized approach, Blanchard said.
“My philosophy is, ‘Study your tail off,’ ” he said with a laugh. “Because the films change, the subject changes and the tone and the look of the films change.
“Spike writes melodic themes,” Blanchard said. “He doesn’t want you to hit specific things. But when I worked with Guy Moshe on ‘Bunraku,’ it was a very surreal type of thing. Guy wanted the total opposite. That’s part of the job, helping the director tell his story in the most concise way possible.”
The booming film industry in his home town delights Blanchard.
“It’s sparked the economy. It’s given people jobs,” he said. “These local workers are getting experience on national and international projects without leaving home, which is really great.
“The people from elsewhere who are working on film projects, they experience our city and love it. Every time I’ve seen people working on a project in New Orleans, man, I’ve see them hanging out at restaurants, going to hear music.”
Blanchard wants more film and TV projects scored and recorded in New Orleans. “We deserve to have a lot of that work in the city,” he said.
On the performance and recording side of his jazz career, Blanchard’s new electric band, the E-Collective, made its New York City debut Jan. 12 at the Blue Note. The group’s made-in-New Orleans album debut will be released in April. Blanchard and the E-Collective’s 2015 performances include three February dates in Russia and its New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival debut on May 2.
“I grew up listening to different types of music,” he said of his new band. “So we’re going to do some Jimi Hendrix and a lot of original stuff. It’s a cross-pollination of many things, but the main thing is, we’re going to have fun.”