Terri Lyne Carrington was found to have a musical gift at a young age-receiving a scholarship to Berklee College of Music at the age of eleven. Coming from a prominent music oriented family, she excelled and has become a frontrunner in jazz drumming, education, and composition. Her most recent album, Money Jungle: Provocative in Blue, was released in early February. A tribute to Duke Ellington, and a fresh re-imagining of the original work from 1962.
Tom Tom Magazine: First, congratulations on the new album! I have so many questions regarding Money Jungle: Provocative in Blue, but first-Max Roach. I was introduced to his work more in college, and his “Freedom Now Suite” really inspired me. You said you almost felt like a method actor in order to prepare for this project. Is there something about Roach that spoke to you?
Terri Lyne Carrington: Max Roach was a mentor of mine. He was the first person to try and get me a record deal, actually. He was an inspiration, too, because he was so melodic on the drums and one of the first people to bring the drums into the forefront of jazz. [He] incorporated so much tonality with the instrument and he was an activist, and all of the things that resonate with me, of course he was a major influence and I’m happy to have paid some tribute to him with this CD. I put a song, ‘A Little Max’, I put it in 5/4 to acknowledge Max’s great ability to play odd time signatures.
Working with Clark Terry was so significant, in terms of your career, and I know so many jazz musicians admire him and his dedication. What is something Terry may have instilled in you early on in life?
Working with Clark Terry, yes, was very significant. Clark Terry taught me…taught me…how to present music, how to be classy, and how to respect yourself and the musicians you play with. He very much admired Duke Ellington. And he’s a great educator, so Clark took an interest in young people and helping them to develop their careers and …[I] applaud him for that because he is generally…genuinely concerned about where the music is going.
Money Jungle, art and commerce… where do you see careers in art and music going, with social media and all?
Art and commerce. Well, I think everything changes, so I don’t know where things are going because its always evolving. Art and commerce are two things that don’t necessarily always go together but you know we have to have support, we have to have money to live, so… musicians and artists… I think it is great that with social media, you know, we’re able to reach each other a lot more. There is not as much of a divide between us. That has also allowed people to promote themselves and let people know what they are doing artistically. So I think that the whole social media game has enhanced the artists world for sure, and hopefully it can enhance the other people’s ability to see how important it is and donate more money. You know…others in the school systems, or to colleges, or to elementary schools that don’t have funding, or to the church programs with music and the arts in general, or just the community based programs, because that’s where people learn. The inner city though, especially, where they really need help, and need the arts to help take them out of their situations and predicaments… and that’s one area where commerce would really be helpful.
I feel that, as a society, sometimes artists are confronted in a way that implies our work should be free and it’s not as serious because we enjoy it, something someone actually once said to me. What do you have to stay to that?
Yeah, working for free… I think we do work for free because we decided to take the road of high art, and there is a certain amount of struggle that goes with that.
How did you decide upon the spoken word clips included in this album?
The spoken word clips… I had a research assistant find me a lot of different clips and I chose which ones that resonated the most with me. I picked some people that I knew I wanted to be included and it’s basically how I did that. So, I got some help.
I’d always focused on rock music as a drummer and, not being a strictly taught musician, realized I’d be over my head taking any jazz drumming courses at Berklee. Now I find myself drumming for a jazz guitarist, but still don’t see myself as a jazz drummer. What is your advice to students who are hesitant, but interested, to jump into the jazz world?
To jump into the jazz world… well, it’s kind of like acting. You can’t just jump into it. A lot of singers or entertainers, athletes, feel like they can act and they just start doing it, but we always know that they’re not trained. It’s the same thing to me for jazz, or high art. You have to have a certain amount of training to do it and have it make sense. And there’s nothing wrong with being a student of music and jumping in it to learn as long as you’re realistic about that.
You help so many students, and I can’t say enough how much I admire those who give their time to teach music. When and why did you decide to do this?
I started teaching about ten years ago, and its a reward I get for a one to one connection, opposed to on the stage or reaching a whole lot of people. So, I learn from my students, as well, and it keeps me current. So, its a win-win scenario.
Do you have any input on the arts and education debate? I know so many music teachers who have lost their jobs due to these programs being cut.
Like I was saying before, you know, I think that we have to be creative with how we help and do our share, and put our two cents in. With the problem of trying to get funds and money to support the arts. Then we hall have to do that. I’m on the board of an organization, and that’s kind of how I do my share right now. You know, I help them fundraise and put on shows. It’s basically a school in Chicago, called Little Black Pearl Workshop, anyway, I do that work because its important to help get the kids off the streets of Chicago, which is one of the most violent cities in the country, and I think we all have to find something somewhere to (give) back.
I noticed Hebert-Carrington Media, do you think it is important to be an
entrepreneur, as a musician, these days? Also, I love the vision explained on your site. Can you elaborate?
It’s important to be an entrepreneur to some degree, to some degree it’s important to recognize your own brand and protect it and develop it, but you can’t be successful in the music business without a certain kind of business savvy. Whether its your manager, but it’s important to know exactly what’s going on yourself. Nobody will ever manage you the way you will, because they’re not the ones out there dealing with it. Of course sometimes they really believe in you and all that, but I’m not sure how much they would believe in you if you didn’t work.
I admire your response in your last interview here, regarding advice to female
drummers. I always tell people to think of themselves as a musician before gender, and you are right on! However, I do sometimes find a struggle between being an advocate for supporting female musicians, and not wanting to cross the line where titles like ‘Women in Music” create more of an exclusion (with men) than an inclusion. How do you find balance?
I mean there is balance in society, so we have to have balance in music. I did the Mosaic Project and focused on female instrumentalists and vocalists. I have men play some of that music on the road with me because men can support women too, and I just feel like the stage should represent our lives to some degree.
Did you collaborate with Esperanza Spalding at Berklee, before Radio Music Society?
Yes, with Esperanza, I played with her on a previous record, I was on that, called Chamber Music Society, and she worked with me on Mosaic Project, which was before Radio Music Society as well.
Do you have a favorite piece of equipment?
I do not have a favorite piece of equipment, other than I’m always looking for that light ride cymbal (laughs). I’m not sure I’ve found it yet but I have many different rides for many different purposes.
What’s your favorite city for performing jazz?
I don’t have a favorite city to perform in. I just try to do my best wherever I hang, and constantly try to create value, and I guess it doesn’t really matter where I am to do that.
By Farah Joan Fard for Tom Tom Magazine