Randall Kline couldn’t wait, and who can blame him? As job announcements go, this one was a blockbuster. SFJAZZ officially revealed Thursday morning that trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard is taking over from the retiring Kline as executive artistic director. It’s a historic transition for the organization that Kline has run since founding it four decades ago as Jazz in the City.
But Kline broke the news himself last Friday during a Miner Auditorium conversation with journalist Richard Scheinin previewing the 40th Annual San Francisco Jazz Festival, which kicked off Wednesday and runs through June 18. In a surprise appearance, Blanchard joined them onstage for a conversation that was also livestreamed as part of SFJAZZ’s Fridays Live series, and Kline giddily preempted the official announcement. With utter predictability, Facebook and Twitter lit up as audience members immediately started posting the news, which was greeted on a spectrum running from elation to ecstasy.
Blanchard is a singular figure who has proven to be uncontainable in any particular music-business silo. A New Orleans native forged in the swinging crucible of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, he’s among jazz’s most formidable trumpeters. He’s also a prolific Academy Award-nominated film composer and rising force in the world of opera.
Featuring a libretto by Kasi Lemmons, Blanchard’s second opera, Fire Shut Up in My Bones, made history last year at the Metropolitan Opera as the company’s first production by a Black composer. And the Met’s staging of Blanchard’s first opera, Champion, about closeted boxer Emile Griffith, concluded a critically hailed month-long run on May 13.
Kline has been handling big-picture questions since the SFJAZZ Center opened in 2013, with Lilly Schwartz, director of artistic programming, and Jeanette Wong, associate director of artistic programming, taking care of most of the booking. But still, given Blanchard’s already dizzying pace and range of activities, how does running an organization with a $20 million annual budget fit in?
“I’d be naive to think there won’t be adjustments,” Blanchard said on a recent phone call from New Orleans. “The great thing about this is they won’t need me to be there 365 days of the year. I’m still working as a full-time creative person. Some things I know I have to be there, and I’ll work my schedule around all that. It’s going to be an adjustment period.”
He’s looking forward to getting to know the Bay Area scene better, but Blanchard already has some deep ties to the region. He’s been an SFJAZZ resident artistic director and has been working closely with the Bay Area’s Turtle Island Quartet in recent years, including for the latest release by his band E-Collective, 2021’s Wayne Shorter homage Absence. Blanchard’s E-Collective, which features guitarist Charles Altura, a graduate of Berkeley High, and Menlo Park-reared pianist/keyboardist Taylor Eigsti, kicks off the Stanford Jazz Festival at Bing Concert Hall on June 24.