INTERVIEW/PREVIEW: Terri Lyne Carrington (The Mosaic Project: Love And Soul, Town Hall, Birmingham, 21 May)

Terri Lyne Carrington
Photo credit: Tracy Love


TERRI LYNE CARRINGTON has won two Grammy Awards for her own albums and has played drums for Wayne Shorter, Dianne Reeves, Al Jarreau and Joni Mitchell among many others. She will be in Birmingham later this month for an exclusive UK performance of her Mosaic Project: Love And Soul and a workshop as part of Jazzlines’ Women In Jazz programme. Here is Peter Bacon’s email interview: 

LondonJazz News: Jazz history tends to go back to the 1940s and ‘50s when describing the excitement of the jazz scene in New York - the clubs, the famous names, etc. What was New York like for you in the 1980s when you were playing there?

Terri Lyne Carrington: New York was very exciting in the ’80s but also because I was young and new on the scene there. There were a lot of clubs, so any night you could pretty much go hear some great music. There were special places like Bradley’s that stayed open later than the Vanguard or Blue Note or Sweet Basil - so if you were playing, you could always go hear someone else. There were after-hours clubs in Harlem that I went to as well, that Cassandra Wilson took me to. There were more jam sessions and places people went to sit in or hear new players on the scene. It was extremely vibrant and the place to be if you loved the music and wanted to be where it was most supported.

LJN: And when you moved to LA, were there fewer club gigs, more studio work? How did all this experience contribute to your music?

TLC: I moved out there for a TV show - The Arsenio Hall Show - so it was a great move for me and I was working still with Wayne Shorter sometimes, so he was very supportive of my move out there, as well as Dianne Reeves and Patrice Rushen. I never did a lot of session work - sometimes, but it was not where I worked the most. But there was a certain clarity with the music coming from LA and the gigs I did while out there - like Al Jarreau (’91-’94) - contributed to my overall ability to be a producer and musical director. Some people feel the music is a little too polished coming from the West Coast, but I feel I utilised the best of what that had to offer and still tried to not lose my edge.

LJN: Which do you prefer - playing live or in studio? And how do you enjoy teaching/workshops?

TLC: I like all of it. I like live because you interact and have a shared experience with the listener. But I like making records because it captures a time period and you can shape it how you want. I like the presentation of it and producing feels like you’re a director, bringing something to life. I also like teaching because it is a more personal connection with people that you can influence, so more responsibility in a way. The one-on-one connection is very rewarding too.

LJN: The range of your music has always been wide, and stylistically diverse - as reflected in the range of other musicians you have worked with, from Gino Vannelli and Carlos Santana to Wayne Shorter and David Murray. Do you think it’s easier for a drummer to work across the different genres?

TLC: I guess it depends on the musician. Some people play cross-genre more than others because their heart is in all of these styles. You can’t do it if your heart is not there. That is the main thing - you have to love the music to play it right. It does not matter if it is a drummer or someone else.

LJN: Money Jungle: Provocative In Blue, your homage to Duke Ellington as well as Charles Mingus and Max Roach, (2013 Grammy for Best Jazz Instrumental Album) was a refreshing reminder of a work - Ellington’s 1963 Money Jungle album - that a lot of contemporary jazz listeners might not have known. Has Ellington always been a strong influence? And what drew you to that particular album?

TLC: I am asked this a lot and I do not have a clear answer. It was mysterious to me. I was drawn to the CD and felt something magical in the title track and covered it on some gigs, then decided I wanted to record it, as well as other songs from that CD. So the project emerged. I was very close to Max so it was great to pay homage to him. Ellington was a genius and of course he has influenced me, as he has influenced everyone in modern jazz. I think it was easier for me to grasp his writing and arranging on this CD since it was a trio album. I could really sink my teeth into it. I could figure out his voicings and learn the music and then play around with how I was hearing it. I also read his books and wanted to get into the mindset and history of this master. It felt like [being] a character actor.



LJN: The Mosaic Project: Love And Soul is very much a celebration of the present generation of female musicians as well as being a tribute to musicians from the past. Is it important to you to signpost both where you have come from as well as where you are - and want to be heading?

TLC: Yes, I am big on history and understanding the contributions of the people that came before me. I try to instil this in my students as well. And I am often trying to merge these worlds, as you have noticed. It is important to always move forward, so I try to do that while still honouring the rich musical past that I love and respect so much.

LJN: You said in your piece on Sexism In Jazz: Being Agents Of Change, for the Huffington Post, that “Feminizing or masculinizing music can be counter-productive.” Do you feel that some jazz in the past has been “masculinized” simply because so many men were making it and so few women?

TLC: Yes, the whole structure of it is heavily masculine, from the creators to the people on the business end. So I feel there needs to be more of a welcoming for something different, even a different ear that is not looking for the same sounds we have had in this music over the decades. A more welcoming and more inclusive atmosphere from all musicians would be a great start toward change. Women too have to look at their own thoughts and words and actions after so many decades of being submerged in this heavily male jazz culture. So yes, there is a simple reason, but not a simple fix.

LJN: You were the first woman to win a Grammy for Best Jazz Instrumental Album. Are there  albums that you wish (in a more equitable world) could or should have beaten you to that accolade?

TLC: I won’t get into picking other CDs, but certainly something by Mary Lou Williams or Geri Allen. And of course there is Marian McPartland and Shirley Scott and other women that had formidable careers and made many recordings. I just don’t know all of them.

LJN: Tell us about the musicians in the band you will be bringing to Birmingham UK - what led you to choose them?

TLC: Tineke Postma is one of my favorite saxophonists and we have played together a lot over the last ten years or so. She is amazing. Her soprano playing reminds me of Wayne Shorter. Helen Sung is an amazing pianist, technically superb and understands the history of jazz piano deeply. So wherever we go, she can hang. Josh Hari on bass is great on both acoustic and electric, which I like so he plays with me often, helping me to blend the worlds. And China Moses is a force to be reckoned with. She has her mom’s (Dee Dee Bridgewater’s) genes and can sing in all the styles as well, She is soulful and knows how to deliver a melody.

Terri Lyne Carrington's Mosaic Project: Love And Soul is at Town Hall Birmingham on Sunday 21 May at 7.30pm.

LINKS: Terri Lyne Carrington's website.2015 LondonJazz News interview with Helen Sung.

Booking details for The Mosaic Project: Love And Soul at Town Hall, Birmingham.

There are free to watch workshop details HERE and HERE.

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