SFJAZZ.org | Terence Blanchard-Into the Fifth Decade

On The Corner Masthead

Into the fifth decade:
terence blanchard and his vision for sfjazz

July 1, 2023 | by Richard Scheinin

Terence Blanchard at the SFJAZZ Center, 6/3/23. (photo by Scott Chernis)

For this month's featured article, staff writer Richard Scheinin spoke to incoming SFJAZZ Executive Artistic Director Terence Blanchard about his new position and his excitement about the future of the organization under his leadership.

Last month in Miner Auditorium, SFJAZZ threw a party for its members and dropped some bombshell news. Executive Artistic Director Randall Kline — the organization’s founder, soon to retire after 40 years — eased into his announcement: “As you all know, I’m leaving here shortly. And there’s going to be a successor,” he said, as the room grew silent. “And we know who the successor is, and the successor happens to be in town right now, and — actually, he’s here.”

And out walked Terence Blanchard.

The crowd erupted with surprised shouts and applause.

Ever since Kline disclosed that he would be retiring in November, after he turns 70, there had been speculation about who would take his place and lead SFJAZZ into its fifth decade.

Choosing Blanchard makes solid sense.

Among the foremost trumpeters in jazz, he came up with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers in the 1980s and today leads one of the most respected working bands in the business. He has executive experience, as well, having served for more than a decade as artistic director of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. And he has grown into one of the most ambitious and visionary figures in American music. Blanchard, 61, has scored some 50 television shows and films (including a bunch for director Spike Lee) and is the composer of two operas, Champion and Fire Shut Up In My Bones, both staged to critical acclaim at the Metropolitan Opera in New York over the past two years. He is a pioneer and activist: When “Fire” premiered in October 2021, Blanchard became the first Black composer ever to have a work staged at the Met, which was founded in 1883.

Terence Blanchard at the Met after a performance of Fire Shut Up In My Bones, 10/21. (photo by Rose Callahan)

Even with those credentials, he speaks humbly about stepping into Kline’s shoes: “When posed with the question of replacing him — well, you can’t replace him,” he says. “That’s Number One. Can’t do that. But I thought about it. I think I have something to offer. I think I can relate to the musicians and to the audience in such a way that allow them to feel free to create. Because that’s the main thing: I want to continue what’s been happening here and then take it further.”

Later this summer, Blanchard will begin easing into his job as Executive Artistic Director. He and his wife Robin Burgess, a well-known artists’ manager, are looking for a home in the Bay Area. Already splitting their time between New Orleans (Blanchard’s hometown) and Los Angeles, their busy lives are about to get busier. Touring commitments will limit the time Blanchard spends in the Bay Area in the coming months. But he will be checking in via Zoom, regularly. As he settles into his new job, he expects to spend one or two weeks per month in his SFJAZZ office at the corner of Franklin and Fell streets, probably starting some time in 2024.

Earlier this month, Blanchard, who’s now on the road with Herbie Hancock, got on the phone to talk about his vision for SFJAZZ.

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