“We’ve all had that moment in our lives where we’ve had to ask ourselves, ‘Who am I? What am I doing,'” says trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard in this week’s episode of OffBeat’s Look-Ka Py Py Podcast. He’s describing the concept behind one of the scenes in his recently completed opera Champion, which focuses on the story of retired boxer and former Welterweight title-holder Emile Griffith whose fierce rivalry with Buddy Paret between April ’61 and March ’62 culminated in one of the most devastating moments of triumph in sports history. At the weigh-in prior to their championship bout, Paret taunted Griffith, a closed bisexual, uttering homophobic slurs in Spanish. Following a flurry of 17 unanswered punches in the twelfth round of the nationally televised fight, Paret collapsed, unconscious, and Griffith reclaimed the title from the man who had taken it from him just six moths earlier. Paret would never regain consciousness. He died a few days later, and the moment haunted Griffith for the remainder of his career.
“The thing I had to come to terms with is this whole notion: What is opera? The thing I drew from is the same thing that happens when people as me, ‘What is jazz,'” Blanchard explains. However, the renowned jazz man is hesitant to call his ground-breaking work a jazz opera. He prefers to refer to the project as an “opera in jazz.” For the Grammy-winning trumpeter and prolific film composer, what separates Champion’s charts from his many others is the role his arrangements play in sculpting the intent of each lyric of each scene. For a deeper look at Blanchard behind the scenes, including more on Champion, the story of how Spike Lee gave him his big break as a film composer and why he’s excited about his May 4th Jazz Fest performance, tune in below.