Terri Lyne Carrington Makes Music and a Difference

Jazz drummer Teri Lyne Carrington works with students in the community and as a professor at Berklee College of Music in Boston.
(Jina Wilson/Joni Heart Photography)

Terri Lyne Carrington takes getting involved and seizing full advantage of all opportunities quite seriously.

The Grammy Award-winning drummer, composer and producer – famous for her all-female concept album, The Mosaic Project — reveals she didn’t realize how powerful her talents were at one  point in her career. “I was playing at seven and a professional by age 10, and I didn’t really appreciate the experience,” she says. “Playing with Dizzy [Gillespie] and Ella [Fitzgerald] gives me more gratitude now. Appreciate all of your experiences – especially your teachers and mentors.”

Carrington – whose grandfather accompanied Fats Waller and Chuck Berry – was at Atlanta-area Pebblebrook High School last month curating a jazz clinic before the school’s music program pupils. The workshop was part of Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre’s ArtsBridge initiative. The musician’s immensely polyrhythmic, syncopated and melodic timekeeping stylings have accompanied Stan Getz, Herbie Hancock, Clark Terry, Nancy Wilson, Cassandra Wilson, David Sanborn, George Duke, Wayne Shorter, Dianne Reeves, Joe Sample, Al Jarreau and Yellowjackets.

Carrington currently serves as a professor at Berklee College of Music, her alma mater in her native, Boston, where she received a full scholarship at age 11. Carrington shares Duke Ellington’s philosophy that jazz is “freedom of expression.” She adds that jazz musicians have to be disciplined and focused. “You definitely gotta have a certain set of vocabulary and a certain skill level to play it. Once you have that, it’s freedom. Jazz means freedom,” she says.

At the close of the town hall-styled clinic, Carrington performed with another young drummer. As Carrington performs her improvised set, she talks directly to the student and gives her full eye contact. The performer believes her experience serves as effective advice for the young students. “We have to give back or the music won’t continue,” Carrington says. “I’ve been there and done that. No one explained it to me. It’s trial and error especially when you’re dealing with the old school jazz cats. You just watch and listen. I tend to try and explain as much as I can just to see if I can help them a little quicker to their destination. I won’t say skip a beat but skip a step and maybe cut some of their journey a little bit shorter if they listen.”

The Arsenio Hall Show’s former house drummer later performed as part of Jazz Roots’ “Ladies of Jazz” series, where she opens for Grammy-winning bassist Esperanza Spalding. Along with pianist Geri Allen, the jazz instrumentalists play in a trio, Allen Carrington Spalding (ACS). Carrington believes she and Spalding are kindred spirits. “We both think the same things are hip,” she says. “I always say we’re like minded. We tend to break up the time in similar ways. When we play together, I feel very much at home immediately. That’s a hard thing especially with a bass player. It’s kinda magical.”

Carrington sets a fine example to young performers. It marks yet another instance in which jazz musicians believe it is their duty to use their wisdom and gifts to guide the next generation into a brighter future. “Do whatever you can to really have a voice,” she says. “Try to be a part of your community. Try to be a part of your political scene. Do your share. We all enjoy and reap the benefits of work that so many other people have done, so it’s up to us to do something.”

Christopher A. Daniel is a pop cultural critic and music editor for The Burton Wire. He is also a contributing writer for Urban Lux Magazine and Blues & Soul Magazine. Follow Christopher @Journalistorian on Twitter.

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