The Humanity of the Story

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Monday December 10, 2018

From The Los Angeles Times

From ‘First Man’ to ‘Mary Queen of Scots,’ some of this season’s top film scores tap into the humanity of the story at play
By: Tim Greiving

‘BlacKkKlansman’ is the 23rd project Terence Blanchard has scored for director Spike Lee ‘” and, in many ways, the culmination of their prolific collaboration.

‘We just have a great thing,’ said Lee. ‘You know, sympatico.’

The film is based on the true story of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), the first black police officer in Colorado Springs who, in the late 1970s, went undercover inside the Ku Klux Klan by pretending to be a white man over the phone. It’s a rollicking caper with many laughs and some delicious comeuppance ‘” but always with a sizzling undercurrent of all-too-real racism.

Blanchard, 56, wrote a score that weds nostalgic, symphonic Americana with the groove of his R&B/jazz band, the E-Collective.

‘Boy, I relate to the moment where [Stallworth’s] telling his captain, ‘Well, I speak the Queen’s English, but I also speak jive,’‘ said Blanchard, a jazz trumpeter from New Orleans. ‘So you have the sophistication of the orchestra, right, that swells and becomes very voluminous at some points and then just kind of hovers and gives you tonal color for some of the brighter moments. But then in the midst of all of that is guitar, and there’s a groove underneath.’

The electric guitar, which wails Ron’s theme over the orchestra, was inspired by another patriot like Stallworth.

‘I started to think about Jimi Hendrix playing the national anthem,’ said Blanchard, ‘and I thought, that’s probably one of the most patriotic musical things that I’ve heard. It represented to me the notion that women and people of color have been screaming for decades: ‘We’re Americans too, who should be afforded the same rights as anybody else.’‘

The score is almost like a narrator in the film, said Lee, who always shares a new script with Blanchard before almost anyone else. It’s also, he said, the film’s soul.

The composer, whose other scores include ‘Malcolm X’ and ‘25th Hour,’ has never been nominated for an Oscar. Lee first met Blanchard when the jazzman played trumpet on the director’s earliest scores, composed by his father, Bill Lee.

‘A lot of times people hear the word ‘jazz’ and they think that that’s something else, and not as worthy as the other stuff,’ Lee said, sighing. ‘But that’s not the world I was brought up in. I hope that this film really gets him the recognition that he deserves.’

Read about the other film scores here