Terri Lyne Carrington: The Long Road
It was with the encouragement DeJohnette that she moved to New York in 1983. In the ensuing years, she worked with the likes of saxophonist James Moody and trumpeter Lester Bowie, among others. "He was my mentor," she says of the iconic drummer. "I started going to visit with him around 17. I would drive four hours from Boston and hang out there. When I moved to New York, I would still continue to go visit with him and his family. It was like a home away from home. He didn't really ever sit down and show me something on the drums. But he'd hear me play and give me pointers. He opened me up musically to a lot of things. A lot of times, we would play together. He would play piano and I would play drums. People would come by the house and we'd jam sometimes."
In the Big Apple, "I was playing around town. I started playing with the New York Jazz Quartet, [pianist] Sir Roland Hanna, [saxophonist] Frank Wess. [Saxophonist] Pharoah Sanders sometimes. A little bit with Lester Bowie. And my peers, a little bit older than me, like [saxophonist] Greg Osby, [pianist] Geri Allen, people like that. [Saxophonists] Steve Coleman and Gary Thomas, [trombonist] Robin Eubanks, [singer] Cassandra Wilson. We were all cutting our teeth in New York at the same time. Just gigging," she recalls. "The big change happened when I auditioned for Wayne Shorter. I got that job when I was 21. That was a pretty major change for me. It was great. It changed my life ... he's still a pioneer."
Herbie Hancock is another major influence. She first met him by going back stage after seeing him in concert. "Then sometime around 18 or 19, somebody called me and told me to call him. He said, '[trumpeter] Eddie Henderson told me you're bad.' We were talking a little bit. Nothing ever really came out of that other than he was aware of me and it was nice. Then, when I was with Wayne, I met him again and played with him a few times on odd gigs with Wayne," says Carrington.
The drummer played a fundraiser with Hancock, Shorter and [bassist] Stanley Clarke. Someone who heard the band booked them for a date in St. Lucia, "that felt like the biggest gig of my life," she said with a laugh. Around then, her Real Life Story album (Polygram, 1989) had come out and would be Grammy-nominated. She had also done a short stint with the house band on television's Arsenio Hall Show.
"So things were very good at the time," she says. "From there, I just started playing with Herbie.
Just prior to her job with Hancock, she was playing with saxophonist Stan Getz. A summer tour was planned, but Getz died. Carrington had turned down Natalie Cole's Unforgettable tour for that summer to play with the sax legend, and now found herself without work for the summer months. "Then Herbie asked if I could recommend any drummers for the summer. He was doing his hip-hop stuff. The budget wasn't very big at all. He's like, 'I have to take 12 people out and I'm still getting paid as if it was a trio.' He said, 'I don't want to ask you to do it, but if you know any young people, somebody that wants to do it that isn't expensive.' I was like, 'Man, I'm not working.'"
She did the gig anticipating it could grow into something more, which it did. After that, "We did Gershwin's World (Verve, 1998), which was a Grammy winner. Things were different. That started my longer association with him. I've played with him off and on for the better part of 10 years."
Of her tenure on Arsenio, she says, "It was great. It gave me national exposure. I was only on the show for four months, but most people think it was a lot longer. It was really a good thing for me. The thing is, you have to really like all styles. I played with Whitney Houston and Little Richard. People like that. New Kids on the Block; they were hot at the time. I enjoyed all that. When I did The Vibe TV show, a Quincy Jones production, I played with James Brown, Rick James, a lot of people I grew up listening to and loving their music. For me, all of those experiences were great. I don't look at them the same as playing with Herbie or Wayne, of course. It's just different. Stylistically different. I enjoy it. I love those styles too. I'm not looking at it as the most creative experience in the world."