It's all about timing for Blanchard
Village News — July 12, 2000

No matter how well a concert is planned, there will always be times that try the souls of program directors such as Dan Atkinson of the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library.

He had no reason to expect disaster when he booked the Terence Blanchard Sextet to play the auditorium of the Neurosciences Institute (NSI) on Thursday, May 18. Blanchard is internationally renowned both as a jazz trumpet stylist and the composer of scores for movies such as "Clockers," "Mo' Better Blues" and "Malcolm X."

Atkinson only books class acts, and Blanchard's reputation stands in the international top rank, so there shouldn't have been anything to worry about - until the rhythm section was grounded in Chicago because of a cyclone warning.

Obviously the sextet would not be in San Diego by the Thursday evening and, despite all efforts, Atkinson was unable to find local musicians to fill in at such short notice.

He had to make the decision to postpone the concert until the following night. Normally when the sextet is on tour it plays every night, but fortunately no gig was scheduled that Friday.

Immediately the entire Athenaeum's staff began phoning everybody who had reservations and let them know the concert had been rescheduled. Atkinson, his assistant, Lucy, and public relations associate Susan Dilts drove to the NSI to greet approximately 30 audience members who presumably had set off for the concert without checking their messages.

"We got so many compliments from people afterwards about how well this was handled," Dilts said later.

But they weren't done handling yet. Pianist Edward Simon and bassist Derek Nievergelt did not even land in Los Angeles (LAX) until 5.45 p.m., Friday, and would have to be driven to San Diego through rush-hour traffic.

"Dan [Atkinson] was so calm cool and collected about this whole thing," Dilts said. He booked Rob Thurson, a well-known local bass player, to sit in during the first half of the concert. Blanchard, reorganized the set fully expecting to play piano himself when not playing trumpet.

According to Dilts, Athenaeum volunteer Nicole Bayer was dispatched to LAX to bring back Nievergelt and Simon. Although she claimed she had made this trip in under two hours in her student days, nobody gave this much credence. Nonetheless, Atkinson dialed her cell phone at 7:30 and asked, "Where are you?"

"Carlsbad. Coming south," she replied.

They reached the NSI at 7:50. "I missed fame by six minutes," a disappointed Thurson joked after the complete sextet took the stage. From the highly polished performance nobody would suspect such drama had gone on behind the scenes but for the constant jokes about it made by Terence "I'm well rested" Blanchard between compositions.

His trumpet playing is as immaculate as it is moving. At age 38 he has the status of a musician's musician in the Miles Davis mold. It was no surprise to see San Diego's trumpet legend Gilbert Castellanos among the audience.

The sextet, all sharply suited post-boomers, plays straight-ahead jazz without any post bop pretension. There is something very finely structured about their music. The rhythm section sounds finely understated. Hauntingly lyrical improvisations came out of the saxophones of Brice Winston, tenor, and Aaron Fletcher, the alto player of whom Blanchard quipped, ""He doesn't need any rest. He's 20 years old. He can play all night long."

The surprisingly short concert included tracks from the recently released "Wandering Moon" CD, kicking off with "Supplemente Simon" and, later in the program, following with the standard "I Thought About You." Blanchard introduced his composition, "Joe & O," by explaining how he felt about the way his musical taste diverges from that of his more traditionalist father.

As Atkinson had told the NSI audience at the beginning of the evening, "Jazz is the art of improvisation. We improvised by changing the date. And you improvised by coming here."

The Athenaeum's summer series of concerts continues at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow (Thursday) with a fully sold out performance by guitarists Mundell Lowe, Herb Ellis and Bob Magnusson in the music room of the library itself at 1008 Wall Street, La Jolla. Admission is $17 and $15 (Athenaeum members).

For waiting list information, call (858) 454 5872.