Three-time Grammy winner and Berklee College of Music professor Terri Lyne Carrington is going to have a busy final week of September. The 53-year-old Medford native will perform as part of a tribute show at Berklee Performance Center on Sept. 26, at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s RISE series on Sept. 27, for four shows with Kenny Werner, Esperanza Spalding and David Liebman at Scullers on Sept. 28-29—and she’s the creative director for the Beantown Jazz Festival on Sept. 29. Oh, and she’s getting ready to launch the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice this fall. The drummer chatted about that and more before her schedule gets even crazier.
How long in the making has the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice been? It’s been a couple of years talking about it and planning an outline just to see if it could happen. With the current #MeToo movement, people are looking at how they can be a part of the solution instead of being part of the problem. It’s good timing for me to have decided to shift my focus. I wasn’t as focused on gender equity until the past five years or so. I basically started talking to a lot of students that started really telling me things that I didn’t experience. And then, you know, one day it was like, “Wow, I can’t just stand by just because my experience was different. I can’t be invited to a club, you know, and be an exception. I have to make sure there’s fairness as much as I can.” So that’s kind of how it all evolved. And once you get into something, there’s no going back. You think, “Wow, this has been really messed up for a long time.” Whether or not it’s affected me so much—even though it has affected me, but not overtly. More micro-aggressions and stuff.
What will the focus of the institute be? We’re actually more focused on instrumental players as opposed to vocalists. It’s interesting that the larger population of women at the college are vocalists. And that’s just in jazz in general, and music in general. So I’d like to look at where that split starts to happen. I think it’s in middle school, where socialization happens where women tend to go with each other and boys tend to go with each other. So the girls go to chorus, and the boys go to the band. And there are a lot of women who want to play instruments, but it’s not encouraged. So we need to look at band directors and make sure that they’re aware of gender equity as well.
What will the institute include? We’re forming that and the curriculum now. There’ll be ensemble-based classes, so there’ll be a performance aspect. But … I don’t want it to be exclusive to great players so, you know, we’re still figuring out how that will happen. For instance, this past summer I had a Summer Sessions, which is a women’s performance program, which matches high school students and college students and immediately kind of sets up a mentorship between them. We had that for five weeks during the summer. But through the institute, we’ll develop different programs and initiatives like mentorship, technology development, outreach—pre-college and the college outreach—and performances. We’ll partner with industry leaders to try to create interning and mentorship programs that way as well. We’re planning to create a library and archives as a resource center. And student projects and performances as well. And guest lecturers as well as artists in residence—musicians and players.
Was your experience different because you had success as a young kid? It’s that, and it’s also because I had a father that was in the business who was a musician. He helped me through doors that a lot of young people don’t have. And there was talent at a young age, so that helps too. But that’s why mentoring is so important. Not everyone has somebody in their family who can say to Dizzy Gillespie, “Hey, my daughter can really play. Can you let her sit in?” and then he believes him. So my situation was just a little different.
Was that nerve-wracking when you played with Dizzy? No, I mean, I don’t even remember a lot of that. I was 10. It was happening a couple of times a month. Overall, you still have nerves. I still have nerves. … That’s a good thing. I do have a lot more confidence now than I did because that just comes with time. One day you just realize you’re the best. I had to realize that I’m the best Terri Lyne Carrington there is. So I’m OK with that.
Walk US through that last week in September on your end. It’s an interesting week, a full week for me. So at Scullers, I’m playing with Esperanza [Spalding] and Kenny Werner and Dave Liebman. And we haven’t rehearsed yet, but we’re actually making a record so these gigs are rehearsal. It’s going to be a lot of improvisation, and we’re trying to approach it like we’re children in a sense. We’re trying to look at how we can discover each other and discover the music, so there will be a lot of room for discovery. The presentation at the Gardner Museum will be a combination of some of the music I’ve done with my band Social Science, which is about current themes, so there’s a vocalist. But it’ll be from a few different projects of mine because it’s not a Social Science gig. And then also Sept. 26, I’m producing and playing a tribute to Bill Pierce, who just retired, at the Berklee Performance Center. He played with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers as well as Tony Williams and was chair of the woodwind department at Berklee. So that concert features Kevin Eubanks from The Tonight Show, Mark Turner as well as Melissa Aldana, so that’s going to be fun. And then Saturday, before playing the evening at Scullers, I’m the artistic director for the Beantown Jazz Festival that’s happening all day Saturday. So that is going to be a very busy week.
Do you enjoy playing with students or former students of yours? Definitely. A lot of my bands, I’ll have seasoned pros as well as some people who just graduated, just to give them the experience. And recognizing that they have something different to say and to offer. My current band is called Social Science and everybody in that band is younger than me—basically from another generation. We’re talking about social and political issues that are concerning us, and so there’s my perspective, but then there’s all these other perspectives. Matt Stevens, Aaron Parks and then even younger. I’ve always reached back and reached forward at the same time. I think that’s important. Social Science is more modern. We have a DJ and it’s sort of mixes jazz with elements of hip-hop, R&B, which is what’s happening in jazz now. I think that it’s a very fertile time. Most people don’t like the word jazz. If we could do away with it, it would be fine. The problem is if you say “jazz,” then most people think of just jazz at Lincoln Center or Wynton Marsalis. There’s so many different ways of looking at the music. I think right now is a great time because you have people merging jazz with R&B, indie rock and classical music and other cultures. And there’s Afro-Caribbean mixed in with jazz, so there’s so many mixtures that music has become a lot more global and a lot more interesting in some ways. But at the same time, you have to understand the history of the music. If you’re going to call yourself a jazz musician, I think you really have to understand the roots of it and where it came from and then you add your thing.
How has the jazz scene in Boston changed since you started out? Everything evolves. I would imagine it’s a changed kind of like it has in other cities and other industries. In Boston specifically, there were, when I grew up it felt like there were more clubs. But now it feels like there are only two clubs, Scullers and Regattabar. It seemed like it was just easier for young people to not only just play at clubs but hear the music live. I sat in with a lot of great jazz artists: Dizzy Gillespie, Elvin Jones, Oscar Peterson, Clark Terry, the list goes on. There’s probably almost 100 artists I’ve sat in with because, you know, the scene was really vibrant with a lot of New York musicians coming through to Boston. I don’t see that as much. The club scene has definitely changed. The good thing now is they do still have student prices at a lot of these venues. But there were more places. It’s always been a strong scene for students because of Berkeley and the New England Conservatory. So that part is very similar. I think what happened really is the internet came along, YouTube and all that. So the students don’t go out to hear live music as much as they used to because they can see these performances on YouTube. So that whole thing has shifted. Before, the only way you could actually see something was to go. It was a very rich time period. I mean, every weekend it seemed like I could go someplace. My dad would take me, and they also had Sunday afternoon matinee performances, which I don’t see as much anymore. So like a lot of the large, bigger name artists would play on Sunday afternoons, which is great for young people.
What have been some pivotal moments in your career? When I was 11 years old and I sat in with Oscar Peterson and I got a full scholarship to Berklee because the president and his wife were in the audience. That’s a life-changing kind of moment. Then when I was 21, I auditioned to get to get a Wayne Shorter gig and got that. That was life-changing. Then when I was 24, I auditioned for the Arsenio Hall Show and got that. That was life changing. I’d say right now a very big, huge pivotal moment for me in my career is starting an institute at Berklee College of Music, which is just being launched now. We had our first launch event a couple of weeks ago on Martha’s Vineyard and we’ll have a larger launch event in October, which you’ll probably find out about when they send out a press release. The institute is called the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice, of which I am founder and artistic director.
When can we expect your next album? My next album is with Social Science, which I would say is a 60 percent finished. I just have to buckle down. It’s a core band, but there will be a few guests. A lot of my records have so many guests that it’s difficult to tour for a project with a different singer on every song. That’s how The Mosaic Project was. But this project is a little different. I’ll just have maybe a couple of guests.
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