Meet Terri Lyne Carrington

Craig Jolley By

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With jazz the pulse is created by the bass and the ride cymbal. That has to be locked... With rock it's more groove-oriented. The kick drum has to be really locked with the bass.
Drummer/composer Terri Lyne Carrington found her voice early. Unlike other child prodigies she was not transfixed by her early success and has continued to grow musically. Besides her brilliance as a drummer she is now established as a bandleader and producer. She records and tours with Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and many others.

New CD: Jazz Is Spirit (The ACT Company)

Wayne Shorter said "Jazz means, No category." I want to take the listeners to places. They may interpret and point to different directions, not just to the same sound as other recordings. I think I do that with some of the twists and turns. For example "Journey of Now" has kind of a world music flavor. "Journey East From West" is a small interlude, and it has a Spanish feel. "Mr. Jo Jones" is kind of historical to me. "Jazz Is" (the first piece) and "Jazz Is A Spirit" (the last piece) both utilize spoken word done by Malcolm-Jamal Warner—I wrote it and he performed it. I feel like the record is true to the jazz idiom even though there are a few places where I utilize elements that have evolved from the hip-hop world or spoken word. We have a few samples and some programming, but that's a very small part of the record. The point is not to be locked into one theme if your interests are in many places—why not use those elements in your music even if your music is jazz. I love all styles, and I've left a little to the imagination to the listener. The CD will be available in Germany the end of February, 2002. It will not be released until September, 2002 in the U.S. People can order it through my web site now. I have a European tour coming up April 7-17 to support the record and another one in July.

Logistics of recording the CD

I got some studio time from a friend of mine. He encouraged me to come in and try out some things. I thought if I was going to do that I might as well make a record. I only had a week to prepare. When I started to do the record I called up all my friends. I had talked to Gary Thomas before this had come up. We were talking about doing our own projects—not waiting for labels to finance us. I immediately called him. I used some frequent flier miles to get him out here in two days. Greg Kurstin was the only person I didn't know. He was recommended by Bob Hurst. Greg does a lot of different things. Herbie Hancock lives here in L.A. I had to try to schedule it around when he was available. I'm sure Gary and Paul [Bollenback] would have played anyway, but when they found out Herbie was going to do it that got everybody excited. Kevin Eubanks lives here. Wallace Roney came through town a couple weeks later so I got him to play on some stuff. Terence Blanchard was available after that, and I needed him to play trumpet.

Shopping the recording

I only sent it to four people: two European labels and two U.S. labels. Siggi Loch of ACT Music had been recommended to me by an attorney in New York. A guitarist I know, Nguyen Le, who also records for ACT recommended Siggi. I sent it to him, and he was very enthused. I didn't really do a major shopping ordeal—I went with what felt right.


Ever since I can remember I've written music. When I started at seven or eight years old I would sit down at the piano and bang out tunes. Also I studied composition and arranging at the Berklee College of Music. I don't differentiate between playing and composing in my artistry— the totality of it is more important than the individual side. Personally my writing is as important as my playing and I like to sing, too. Most of the songs I write start at the piano—actually they start in my head. I'll hear melody or harmony or an idea. I'll go to the piano and try to figure out what I heard through both the "Journey" pieces from the CD started on the drums. I do my own orchestrations for small group projects. I just wrote something for a ballet, "The Coming of Dawn," that's going to be performed March 16-17 in Denver. I got some help on that. I won't be able to attend the performances because I'm on tour during that time but I'm going to try to get there for rehearsals. It's been in the works a long time. A friend of mine Charles Mims co-wrote the first half— that was performed here in L.A. by Winifred Harris' Between the Lines. The second half was co-composed by another friend, Ed Barguiarena. Ed's going to orchestrate the whole thing for ten pieces.

Musical connection with bassists

Bass and drums have a connection in whatever style of music you play. The connection is a little different depending on where you are. With jazz the pulse is created by the bass and the ride cymbal. That has to be locked. If you hear a bassist and drummer where one is behind the other there's a problem. With rock it's more groove-oriented. The kick drum has to be really locked with the bass. You have to make a switch to some degree. You can make great music with someone you don't know. It depends on the style: if it's just straight groove it's not as important. When you're playing things where the time is elastic you have to really trust each other. Sometimes that's harder to do if you don't get along with somebody. I used to play with my eyes closed—just using my ears. I still do that sometimes but a lot of times I look over and say, "It's me and you. Come on, let's do this." If you look somebody in the eyes while you're playing it's very personal. You have to like them, definitely.

Favorite bassists to play with

In the acoustic world John Patitucci and Anthony Cox. I just started playing with Bob Hurst here in L.A. On the electric scene Matthew Garrison with Herbie Hancock. In Europe Lars Danielsson is very talented. I played on the Vibe show for a year. We had a lot of bass players, and I liked playing with all of them. The guy who was there the longest was Alex Al.

Big band drumming

The only steady big band thing I did was in college, the International Dues Band with Phil Wilson, the trombone player. He was a teacher at Berklee. I'll read big band charts when I go to colleges as a guest in their concerts or in workshops. Maria Schneider is amazing. I enjoy playing her stuff, but for the most part I'd rather play with smaller bands. I like the Duke Ellington Orchestra because of the colors he utilized. Obviously Gil Evans—that's where Maria Schneider comes from. I love listening to big bands like Count Basie and Lionel Hampton.

Jo Jones

I knew him very well. He came and stayed at our house sometimes. Buddy Rich introduced me on the To Tell The Truth show when I was 11, but that morning I had breakfast with Papa Jo. [Contestants had to guess whether Carrington was actually a jazz drummer. As someone who heard her at the time (at the Famous Ballroom in Baltimore) I can testify she could play.] I had a strong relationship with Papa Jo, Buddy Rich, and a lot of drummers—that doesn't happen so much now. It's a different community. The world is larger, and people move around so much. People are busy.

Alan Dawson—learning to play drums

Alan was an early influence on me. He lived in my neighborhood in Boston for a long time. Then he moved two towns over, 15 miles away. He didn't take me on as a student until I was 14 years old. He didn't want to discourage me or have me too disciplined. Before that I studied with John Wooley, Keith Copeland, and Tony Tedesco who helped me with reading and got me on shows that came through Boston. I studied vibes with Alan as well. He played vibes incredibly. He had a way he taught everybody. He developed technique and independence between the four limbs— that was the most important thing at the time. Once you get that together you can hear something, process it, and actually play it because you've developed this coordination. I do want to start taking lessons again. When you get older there are a lot of bad habits that creep in, and you forget some things. Freddie Gruber is someone I want to start taking lessons with.

Jack DeJohnette I met Jack De when I was a teenager and he and his wife, Lydia, took me under their wing, allowing me to go visit whenever I wanted—a home away from home. I really learned a lot about life during those times. Great music normally comes from great human beings, I find. Jack is among the finest, not to mention one of the baddest drummers the world has seen.

Herbie Hancock I love playing with him—he makes it really hard to play with other keyboard players I'll tell you. He makes me comfortable playing in various settings. He called me for the Dis Is Da Drum (Verve) tour. That was a hip-hop based record of his. We did a record called Gershwin's World (Verve), and I toured with him on that for almost two years. His next record was this new one that's out Future 2 Future (Verve). He called me to do that because he felt like we could continue in the creativity we were exploring in the Gershwin band—bring some of that to the table with electric music, which is not the easiest thing in the world. It's worked out great. We have a U.S. tour coming up March 11-29. In July he'll be doing a tribute to Miles Davis and John Coltrane with Michael Brecker in Europe—that's Herbie's next record. I'll take the opportunity to tour with my own band. It's all good.

Wayne Shorter with Orchestra

That was fun. It's been 2 1/2 years since we started recording, and I'm hoping it comes out soon. I played on the first half of it. Brian Blade finished up and did the tour.

About Terri Lyne Carrington
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