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December 2003

Anthony Magro
Contemporary Cat: Terence Blanchard

Author Anthony Magro examines the career of Terence Blanchard through a series of straight-up interviews with the trumpeter and composer as well as his family, fellow musicians, teachers and those with whom he's worked in the film industry. Interviewees include all of the musical Marsalis clan, saxophonist Donald Harrison, bassist Christian McBride, director Spike Lee, actor Denzel Washington and a host of others.

For the most part, the author stays out of the mix, quoting his subjects directly. He quite successfully interweaves responses on a given topic, such as the controversial breakup of the Blanchard-Harrison band, the trumpeter's struggles when forced to change his embouchure, jazz's viability and the factor of race. By employing this technique, the reader is offered differing points of view minus possible misconstrued interpretations. On occasion, however, repeated testimonials to Blanchard's talents add little meat to the subject.

Trouble looms when Magro does step in to seemingly offer his insight and further information. Few New Orleanians would be able to suppress a huge groan when, during a discussion of the Blanchard-Harrison 1984 release New York Second Line, Magro defines the term second line. He writes: "Second line is an alternative term for Dixieland, music categorized as part of New Orleans tradition." While numerous definitions for the phrase second line exist, certainly neither Blanchard nor any of the numerous New Orleans musicians heard from in this book suggested "an alternative form of Dixieland."

Early on, the author also dismisses decades of talented and influential musicians when describing the years previous to those of Wynton and Branford Marsalis and, eventually, Blanchard's emergence on the scene. He writes: "New Orleans did not produce a major jazz artist after Louis Armstrong followed the music to Chicago in 1922." Anybody ever hear of drummer Ed Blackwell?

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