Terri Lyne Carrington: Hitting the Richly Layered Notes of Jazz

Written By Fernando Gonzalez
January 17, 2018 at 8:08 PM

Three-time Grammy winner drummer, composer and producer Terri Lyne Carrington, appearing with her quartet at the Coral Gables Congregational United Church on July 21 as part of the Community Arts Program (CAP) Summer Concert Series, has had a remarkable career.

Born in Medford, Mass. to a musical family — her father was a saxophonist, her grandfather a drummer — Carrington was a child prodigy who played with trumpeter Clark Terry at the Wichita Jazz Festival when she was 10, and was taking drum and piano lessons at Berklee College of Music when she was just 11.

Not much later Carrington, who will be 51 in August, began to build a career that has included both stints with jazz luminaries such as Wayne Shorter, James Moody, Stan Getz and Herbie Hancock, and leading her own groups. Her musicality as a drummer, an eclectic taste, has also led to performing and recording with artists such as Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder and Whitney Houston and working as the house drummer for the Arsenio Hall Show and Quincy Jones’ late-night show Vibe.

Notably in recent years, she has brought all those experiences to richly layered, highly personal projects such as The Mosaic Project, a superb all-female recording which won a Grammy for Best Vocal Jazz Album in 2011; and Money Jungle: Provocative in Blue, her take on Money Jungle, a 1963 recording by the jazz super trio comprising Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and Max Roach, winner of Best Instrumental Jazz Album in 2013. Carrington also won a Grammy as a producer for singer Diane Reeves’ Beautiful Life in 2014. Other notable outings include last year’s The Mosaic Project: Love and Soul, a second installment of The Mosaic Project blending R&B, soul and jazz and featuring top singers such as Nancy Wilson, Chaka Khan, Natalie Cole, Valerie Simpson and Lalah Hathaway. Her most recent work is Perfection, a trio outing with saxophonist David Murray and pianist Geri Allen.

Carrington and her group, featuring Aaron Parks, piano; Mark Shim, sax; and Zach Brown, bass, will perform music from Money Jungle: Provocative in Blue.

Carrington spoke with Artburst from her home in Boston.

Why did you pick Money Jungle? Was it the music or the social elements to it?

A little bit of both. … I didn’t hear [Money Jungle] until about 15 years ago. I was very late to come to it, but when I did, it really jumped out at me. I think I could feel the tension of the times, the tension of the musicians, it had some mystical quality I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

Ellington, Mingus and Roach were outspoken in their time. How do you feel about the role of musicians, especially in the light of recent events?

I think we all have a responsibility to speak up, whether you are a musician, an artist or not.

As they say: if you’re not part of the solution then you’re part of the problem. I can’t imagine an artist seeing what is going on now and not feeling this way. The times we are living in seem like history repeating itself.

Is The Mosaic Project your way of making a statement?

You have to be honest with what you believe and with who you are. Wayne Shorter says ‘I’m not what I do, I do what I am.’ So I wasn’t trying to overtly be political. To me it, [The Mosaic Project] was trying to recognize a lot of great female instrumentalists and vocalists. So yeah, that’s a statement in itself, but I wasn’t trying to say ‘I’m a feminist.’

In 2013, you were the first female artist to win a Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Album with Money Jungle: Provocative in Blue. Besides the personal satisfaction, how important do you think this was for women in jazz?

It was hard to believe that that was the case [being the first female artist to win Best jazz Instrumental Album], but then again, there are so many more men making jazz records than women. That said, there have been some amazing female jazz artists. I felt very honored and surprised to be the first, but also I’m glad it happened because once you have that [breakthrough], things are more possible for other people.

Over the years, you have played with a great variety of artists, in so many different styles and settings. How do you feel those experiences have shaped your work?

I’ve always been interested in other styles and have dabbled in all these different genres, but it was hard for me to put it all together in one project. I feel that I sort of did that with The Mosaic Project. I was trying to do these things in the early ‘90s [and hit resistance]. I now feel that I was a little bit ahead of my time.

Now, the record companies are not [as important] as they once were. The paradigm has shifted and people are doing what they want to do and for that, it’s an amazing time to me. I’m very excited about where jazz is now, with the blending of jazz with other styles.

There is a snippet at the end of Money Jungle: Provacative in Blue discussing jazz, money and art, and a line: “... the popularity of it [jazz] doesn’t matter. When you are talking about popularity then you are talking about money, not music.”

That’s a Duke Ellington quote read by Herbie [Hancock]. You don’t become a jazz musician to be successful financially, if that’s what you want, you might do better choosing something else.

Terri Lyne Carrington Quartet performs Thursday, July 21, at 8:00 p.m.; Coral Gables Congregational United Church of Christ, 3010 DeSoto Blvd., Coral Gables (across from the Biltmore Hotel), as part of the Community Arts Program (CAP) Summer Concert Series. Info: $35 at the door. Save $5.00 by ordering online. or 305-448-7421, ext. 153.



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