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Terri Lyne Carrington: The Long Road

Terri Lyne Carrington: The Long Road
R.J. DeLuke By

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"Better Git It in Your Soul," a perspicacious jazz man once communicated in a song title more than half a century ago. Drummer Terri Lyne Carrington wasn't even born yet, but she sure did have it in her soul upon arrival. Long before she was even aware of bassist Charles Mingus, the author of those words, she had "it." It was rhythm and she exuded it and fostered it at a very early age.

She played a show with trumpeter Clark Terry when she was 10. By the time she was 11 she had a Berklee scholarship. Having Jack DeJohnette as a mentor is monstrous, but in order to get to that position, the great drummer had to have seen something special.

For years now, she's been an in-demand drummer playing with all kinds of musicians, including pianist Herbie Hancock and saxophonist Wayne Shorter. In more recent years, she's coming more into her own, developing strong recordings and getting high marks for producing as well; her 2011 Mosaic Project (Concord) won the Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album.

Carrington is one of the finest drummers on the scene, full of fire and invention, with the flexibility to fit just about any situation. It appears she was born to do it.

"There are a lot of really strong young players now," she says, looking back to her beginnings. "My father always kids me, 'It's a good thing you came along when you did,' meaning there are so many young players that are great at a young age. But the thing that I say back is, 'If I came along now I would be better.' Better at 10 now than I was at 10 then. Because there's so much more information. Times have changed and people are assimilating things a lot faster. It's the way society's moving. Just the invention of the internet, everything is faster. People learn faster."

She's pursued music her whole life, with formal education and the inevitable lessons acquired from other musicians, many of them masters. She's in an important place where she not only instills something special into other people's bands and other recording projects when she chooses to do so, but stands on her own as a serious artist—not just drummer—who has a lot to say.

"My whole life, I haven't really done anything else [but music] and I have no desire to do anything else," Carrington says. "What's interesting to me is sometimes it takes that kind of lifelong dedication to something. Which most strong musicians have. It takes that lifelong dedication and perseverance to come into your own and for things to come into fruition. It's what I felt like with The Mosaic Project and Money Jungle (Concord, 2013). Finally, all the things that I've done are coming together. I'm able to make sense of it all in some way."

Terri Lyne Carrington—Money Jungle Provocative in BlueThe latter reference is her album released this year, Money Jungle: Provocative in Blue. It's a superlative record that revisits the renowned album made 50 years ago, Money Jungle (United Artists, 1963), when the beyond-category pianist Duke Ellington joined Mingus and drummer Max Roach, younger men who were playing bop and beyond, for a trio recording laced with blues and inherent swing. She chose, for her project, the indomitable Christian McBride on bass and the artistic and adroit Gerald Clayton on piano. Other artists appear here and there, but it's essentially a reinterpretation of many of the songs from the 1963 record. Not an imitation. More like inspiration.

Carrington first came upon the Ellington-Mingus-Roach record about 12 years ago in a record bin. She had never heard of it, even though it was among hundreds and hundreds of record her father had in his collection. "It was one that slipped past me," she notes. "Something about it. There was some magic about it that compelled me from the first time I heard it."

Some of the songs struck her as interesting enough to play, and she would incorporate the title track into set lists from time to time. Then, "One day I decided I wanted to cover this record. I don't know why, other than there was something magical and mystical that jumped out of that recording for me. I started hearing arrangements and things that I felt I could do with it." That included the feeling of the blues it exuded.

"To me, the blues thread is a big thread throughout all of that record, except maybe a couple songs. I'm talking about the newer songs. The ones [Ellington] recorded for that date, not 'Caravan' or 'Warm Valley.' I felt like that theme was important. I felt like [Ellington] was speaking to the people. The blues form is always a way to relay messages, traditionally. I won't say grassroots-based, but to me it was a record for the people. Max and Mingus were definitely radical guys. Guys that had no problem talking about what was going on during those times. To me, it was making a statement reflective of the times."

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