Photo: Lester Cohen/WireImage
"Legends In The Round"
GRAMMY Museum Releases Two Songwriters Hall Of Fame Programs From Archive
Featuring iconic and contemporary songwriters sharing stories about their craft, the programs celebrate the 10-year partnership between the two music organizations
The GRAMMY Museum continues to roll out exciting and exclusive content online while its physical doors are closed until further notice in light of COVID-19. Tomorrow, June 11, the Museum will release two Songwriters Hall of Fame programs from its archive, including "Legends In The Round" and "Chart Toppers: Today's Star-Making Hit Songwriters/Producers."
True to its title, "Legends In The Round" brought together songwriting giants Hal David, Lamont Dozier, Mac Davis, Nickolas Ashford, and Valerie Simpson for a discussion on from Oct. 19, 2010, moderated by GRAMMY and Oscar -winning composer/songwriter and SHOF inductee Paul Williams.
"Chart Toppers: Today's Star-Making Hit Songwriters/Producers" engaged contemporary pop songwriters on Oct. 18, 2017 for a discussion of the craft, including late songwriter/producer busbee, plus Dave Bassett, Warren "Oak" Felder, and Teddy Geiger. The conversation was moderated by acclaimed music journalist and author, Shirley Halperin, Executive Editor of Music at Variety. You can read more about the intimate discussion at the SHOF website.
The timing of tomorrow's release is to honor of the original date the 2020 SHOF Induction & Awards Gala was scheduled before being postponed to next June. The exclusive content offering also celebrates the 10-year partnership between the two music organizations.
Both programs feature these iconic and contemporary songwriters sharing behind-the-scenes stories about their craft and unique collaborations. For more information, visit www.grammymuseum.org.
Photo: Rob Verhorst / Contributor
Remembering Coolio: 5 Standout Tracks From The Late Rapper’s Discography
With a career spanning three decades, Coolio will be remembered for his upbeat ‘90s jams, sense of humor, and lyricism. While the road to the top was rocky, and Coolio developed a unique sensibility and canon of hits.
GRAMMY-winning rapper Coolio passed away on Tuesday, Sept. 28, at the age of 59. The rapper is best known for his 1995 smash hit "Gangsta’s Paradise," which became the top-selling single of the year thanks to its melodic sample, energetic flow and catchy hook. He is survived by his six children.
Born Leon Ivey Jr., Coolio spent his early years in Monessen, Pennsylvania before relocating with his family to Compton, California — the birthplace of West Coast rap. Coolio's parents introduced him to classic R&B hits from their youth, and those songs became inspiration for his future sound. "My mom and stepfather was listening to Miles Davis, Stevie Wonder, the Supremes, the Dramatics, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield," Coolio told Rolling Stone in 1995. "Back in those days, people didn’t have big album collections, at least not in the ghetto, but we did."
Before making a full-time commitment to music, the "Fantastic Voyage" rapper worked a range of jobs, including airport security; he credited his work as a volunteer firefighter with helping him kick an addiction to crack cocaine. "I wasn’t looking for a career; I was looking for a way to clean up a way to escape the drug thing," he told the LA Times in 1994. "It was going to kill me and I knew I had to stop. In firefighting, training was [the] discipline I needed. We ran every day. I wasn’t drinking or smoking or doing the stuff I usually did."
With his life back on track, the rapper was free to focus on his music and never looked back. After the release of his debut album, It Takes A Thief, in 1994, Coolio enjoyed immense success on global music charts, and wins at the GRAMMYs, American Music Awards and MTV Music Awards before his career began to simmer down in the 2000s.
But Coolio did not stop. In 2008, he created a cooking reality show called "Cookin’ With Coolio" and became a spokesperson for Environmental Justice and Climate Change, helping to start a dialogue with students at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) about global warming.
As news of his passing made the rounds on social media, fans and peers alike paid tribute to the late rapper, including fellow West Coast rap legend Ice Cube. "This is sad news," he tweeted. "I witness first hand this man’s grind to the top of the industry. Rest In Peace, @Coolio."
Dangerous Minds actor Michelle Pfeiffer took to Instagram to pay her respects. "I remember him being nothing but gracious. 30 years later I still get chills when I hear ["Gangsta’s Paradise"] Sending love and light to his family. Rest in Power, Artis Leon Ivey Jr. ❤️."
In celebration of his life and career, listen to and learn about five standout tracks from the late GRAMMY-winning rapper, who has become a part of pop culture history.
Coolio co-wrote this classic hip-hop track for the soundtrack of the 1995 high school drama, Dangerous Minds, starring Michelle Pfeiffer. Featuring a Stevie Wonder sample ("Pastime Paradise") and a haunting yet catchy chorus sung to perfection by Larry "LV" Sanders, the cinematic theme song erupted on the charts, making Coolio a household name across the globe. (According to the New York Times, Wonder approved the use of the sample with a major stipulation: The song had to be profanity-free. This simple caveat may have inadvertently set the song up for more widespread success.)
"Gangsta's Paradise" set Coolio up for his first nomination at the 38th GRAMMY Awards. The track was only the second rap song to get nominated for Record Of The Year, and won Coolio his first golden gramophone. The rapper was nominated a total of six times.
Sanders played a pivotal role in the song’s success, according to Rolling Stones’ oral history of the classic track. The singer received the song before Coolio was involved and changed the name from "Pastime Paradise" to "Gangsta’s Paradise." Sanders recorded the singing portion of the track and chose to bring Coolio in to write and perform the rap verses. In March of 1996, Weird Al Yankovic released a parody of the song called "Amish Paradise," without Coolio’s permission (artist approval is not legally required for a parody song ). Coolio dissed Yankovic and spoke out against the song, though the pair eventually reconciled and Coolio admitted that his ego led to his outburst.
Yesterday, music writer Dan Ozzi posted an excerpt from an interview with the rapper, in which he addressed the beef and his growth since the incident. "Let me say this: I apologized to Weird Al a long time ago and I was wrong," Coolio said. "Y'all remember that, everybody out there who reads this s—. Real men and real people should be able to admit when they're wrong and I was wrong."
Released on his debut studio album, It Takes a Thief, the song features a pulsating beat and an ever-catchy chorus "Come along and ride on a fantastic voyage" pulled from the heavily sampled 1980 R&B-funk song of the same name by the group Lakeside.
The song was a hit and the album was well-received by hip-hop fans and a sign of good things to come for Coolio’s career.
"Ooh La La"
Like many ‘90s rappers, Coolio utilized samples from artists of the ‘70s and ‘80s but he infused these memorable sounds with his own flavor. "Ooh La La" — the second single from the rapper’s third album, 1997's My Soul — features a sample of "Pull Up to The Bumper" by Grace Jones. The result is a sonic delight designed for cruising or a throwback party jam.
While the single did not achieve the same success as his other smash hits, the lesser-known summertime bop holds its own and showcases the rapper's breezier side.
"Aw, Here It Goes"
In the ‘90s, at the height of his fame, Coolio brought his signature swagger and flow to the theme for "Kenan and Kel," a beloved Nickelodeon sitcom starring "SNL’s" Kenan Thompson and Good Burger’s Kel Mitchell. The duo paid tribute to the late rapper on their Instagram pages: Thompson offered his condolences with a few slides on his Instagram story, while Mitchell shared a heartfelt message and memory.
"Rest in Heaven @coolio ! We recently spoke a few months ago laughing and having such a good time. So many great memories with you, bro!," Mitchell wrote. "That time first meeting you on 'All That' cracking up in a Good Burger Sketch then you bringing me on stage after your performance to freestyle. Then later creating the legendary 'Kenan and Kel' theme song for @kenanthompson and I. You did an interview the day of filming the intro on Big Boys Neighborhood and all of Los Angeles was at Universal Studios city walk it was a party!!"
"1, 2, 3, 4 (Sumpin' New)"
Coolio had major skills on the mic and beyond, but he also had a great ear for danceable tracks that could jumpstart any dancefloor. The upbeat 1996 single, "Sumpin’ New" featured three different samples — "Thighs High (Grip Your Hips and Move)" by jazz trumpeter Tom Browne; a vocal sample from "Wikka Wrap" by the Evasions, and its main riff comes from "Good Times" by Chic.
Press Play At Home: Trinidad Cardona Shares A Relaxed Bedroom Performance Of His Viral TikTok Hit, "Dinero"
In this stripped-down, brooding performance of "Dinero," bilingual R&B singer-songwriter Trinidad Cardona revisits the song that went viral in TikTok in 2021, three years after he released it.
Smooth vocal runs and a gentle acoustic guitar line are at the center of Trinidad Cardona's performance of "Dinero," a mid-tempo ballad about the intoxicating powers of an ill-fated romantic relationship that, despite its drawbacks, keeps drawing both people back for more.
In this episode of Press Play at Home, the rising R&B singer-songwriter homes in on the intimacy of his hit song, performing a rendition of the track in a bedroom, accompanied only by a guitar line.
Sitting on the edge of a bed and wearing lounge clothes, Cardona sings into a mic, surrounded by objects you'd expect to find in a bedroom: Clothes on the hangers, a record player on the drawer chest, flowers in a vase and a couple of bottles on the nightstand.
It's a fitting backdrop to represent Cardona's success story: The 23-year-old breakout performer found stardom by doing things his own way, without the support of a manager, press agent or label.
According to Billboard, he was supporting himself by picking up odd jobs on Craigslist and delivering food out of his banged-up 1993 Nissan Sentra when "Dinero" went viral on TikTok in 2021.
The song — which had actually already been out for three years, as Cardona released it in 2018 — became the No. 1 song on TikTok's viral chart, inspired more than two million creations by other users and earned more than 65 million streams across all platforms.
Meanwhile, Cardona's success continued to snowball; the up-and-comer has already racked up over 6 billion streams across all platforms.
Press play on the video above to enjoy the singer's easygoing bedroom rendition of "Dinero," and keep checking back to GRAMMY.com for more episodes of Press Play at Home.
Photo: Tom Ham
IDLES Chatter With Joe Talbot: How The British Rockers Get Personal, Political & Festival Filthy
After wrapping up an American tour, IDLES singer Joe Tablot spoke with GRAMMY.com about making progress, understanding the press and why he has Otis Redding tattooed on his arm.
When IDLES began in 2009, singer Joe Talbot recalls that not even their then-manager got the name right. "We were Idols, Ideals, the Idols. We were put on the wrong posters. Everything you can imagine was wrong for about a year and a half."
But the Welsh-born singer and his band bided their time. After forming IDLES with bassist Adam Devonshire in Bristol, England, "We were very patient with people mistreating us, underestimating us, giving us terrible advice, not paying us, slagging us off," Talbot says. "We'll just look at those minor misgivings or micro-aggressions as something that later on we can look back on and really appreciate as what we went through to get to where we are now, which I think is a place of success."
Indeed, IDLES — rounded out by lead guitarist Mark Bowen, rhythm guitarist Lee Kiernan and drummer Jon Beavis — are huge in their native U.K. IDLES 2020 LP Ultra Mono debuted at No. 1 on the UK charts, and No. 1 on Billboard Emerging Artists chart. The Guardian raved, "Like no other British rock band of their generation, IDLES offer a sense of resilient belonging, rendering pain fertile and ugliness majestic."
Possessed of a punk rock energy intensity and sensibility, with unsettling musicality in songs like "The Wheel," IDLES' acerbic songs run from intensely personal (the caretaking and death of Talbot's mother informed Brutalism) to pointed social commentary ("Model Village"). Talbot’s vocals are upfront and Brit-accented, especially vehement on songs like the pointed, toxic masculinity-bashing "Never Fight a Man With a Perm," which has garnered nearly 26 million Spotify streams.
Although the band has done nine U.S. tours, IDLES' popularity in the States lags slightly behind that of the U.K. Yet since the release of their latest LP, 2021’s Crawler, IDLES worship is growing. The noisy songs of controlled chaos are driven by Talbot’s powerful vibe, of which he’s quick to clarify: "People mistake that my energy is anger."
The singer, whose witty, smart and oft-idiosyncratic and iconoclastic approach is seen in some of his tattoos — a chair, Biggie Smalls, Frida Kahlo on his left hand, Bill Murray’s face and the word "pops" on his neck because his dad hates neck tattoos — chatted with GRAMMY.com in the midst of IDLES ’ recent U.S. tour, which wrapped Sept. 17 at New Jersey’s Sea.Hear. Now. festival. A sold-out tour of New Zealand and Australia kicks off October 27.
IDLES seem to be in a great place career-wise. You’ve won prizes and been nominated for Brit Award, the Mercury Prize, and more. What quantifies success to you?
Progress. I think progress to me sounds and looks like the exploration of the self in a way where you're beautifully comfortable and uncomfortable at the same time as an artist. Success is emotional maturity. And success is a loyalty with the people around you and your community or audience.
Loyalty from an audience perspective comes from them trusting you and being genuine, because you love what you do. And we do. We're very grateful that we're able to come back after the pandemic and do this with so many wonderful people with open arms and open minds.
You can't ignore the money side, that would be ignorant and I think kind of bad taste not to accept that. Being able to pay my bills and build a future for my daughter by playing music is a beautiful thing. Emotionally and monetarily, we can't ask for anything more. We're just in a beautiful dream. And we will keep working as hard as we can. As long as you'll allow us in your venues, we will be there.
You actually have a song inspired by an American venue in Ohio, "Beachland Ballroom." IDLES are known for musical urgency and immediacy but "Beachland Ballroom" is a musical departure.
I grew up with soul music. I’ve been trying to write a soul song for a long time. Like, I've got Otis Redding tattooed on my arm and it’s something that I love. When we started as a band, I was very angry. But I was also self-pitying, and cyclical with my drug and alcohol addiction and blamed everyone else. That's what happens, you know?
But I love where soul took me, so I'd always try and throw [it] in, but I wasn't ready for it vocally and psychologically. I wasn't ready for soul music and to do it properly…to write beautiful poetry I think you need to be immersed in it, not yourself. That sounds weird, but I wanted to write something beautiful. And that's how it sounded.
Another now-iconic American thing is Coachella, and you played there this year. Was it what you expected?
It was exactly as I expected, because I've been there as a punter with my [ex] girlfriend. In 2011 we went for a road trip, four weeks around California. We stopped off at Coachella because Kanye West was performing his My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, which at the time, and is, one of the best albums ever. It was just when selfies had taken off. So there's a lot of people taking selfies, which was very bizarre to me at the time. This is how old I am!
European festivals are very different affairs. We like to get filthy and in the U.K., we expect mud and to not shower for five days. It's very debauched.It feels very good, but it doesn't look great. That's what I love about Glastonbury and Reading and all the festivals that I grew up on: you leave the mirror at the door and you go and you forget and let go and you enjoy the music and you embrace the people around you. And you learn something about what it is to be part of the universe with music and energy. Coachella is just a different kettle of fish. But playing it is amazing.
In 2011, the band had been together a couple years. Did you think 'someday I'll play here?'
I never had any expectations of playing anywhere. We were f—king terrible.
Well, lots of terrible people play Coachella.
Yeah, I know. I saw them! No, I didn't [think I’d ever play Coachella] at the time, I was too busy figuring out what we should sound like and how to improve. We were just writing and writing and writing because we knew we weren't there yet. We hadn't found our true voice.
I never knew what to expect from them from the North American market if I'm honest. A key to our success is that we haven't paid attention to our peers. We've kept our heads down and worked as hard as possible. And I've made sure I'm the hardest-working man in every room I've been in in terms of band and music.
America vs. the U.K. is definitely a thing when it comes to both press and success for a British band.
I won't speak for American press because I don't know it well enough. And since I've been being interviewed by North American journalists, it's been a period where I stopped reading because it doesn't help.
The thing about the U.K. is a very small island built on an empire that's like a network of problematic ideologies to make other people feel small. If it was a person, it would be a very short pigeon-chested, angry, balding man with pink skin, screaming at the sun. As an island, I think there's a very defensive nature that comes from our class system. It's both built, built on ideology and built on power struggles, and it's built on oppression. But it's all ideological. It's based in finance. But the reason it's sustained is with language and press.
Now with that, no matter what press, what the journalist is writing about, they're part of that. And as soon as you get to a certain place where you're successful — monetarily, popularity, anything like that — they want to squash you because they feel threatened or feel you don't deserve it, because you're not good enough. Because they think they know what good is and you don't.
To follow that, you had some criticism leveled at you in the U.K. about the ideas in the song "Model Village," and I read that you are no longer playing it live.
I was just offered a new perspective in a quite close-minded article, to be fair, they were wrong. But it made me question it.
They were wrong because the song was misread as what they were pissed off about, that wasn't what I was saying. But I realized, ‘oh, now's not the time to perform this song, because it is divisive, and it is aggressive in its tone.’ And there's a lot of disillusionment in our country based on class. And if people think I'm having a go at the working classes in that song, they're f—king stupid.
But yeah, I stopped that because of an article and I realized, you know, there's a line, I don't want I have to constantly defend a song that I know isn't what it is cut out to be. The only person whose fault that is, is mine. Obviously, my writing wasn't clear enough. And with that comes some real problematic ….
Thank you for clarifying. For me, there's nothing worse than being misconstrued. That said, I appreciate your take on not wanting to add to the burden of a misunderstanding.
I would never apologize for the song, nor would I delete it from the internet or take it off an album. I just don't want to perform it at the moment. It’s not a forever thing. I just think the conversation around the working classes in our country at the moment is a very disturbing one. And I don't want to add to that fire.
Let’s end with "The End," which ends Crawler. Lyrics include, "…act like a dick in spite of it all life is beautiful." Is that about you?
Sometimes. I mean, I'm up and down. I can be a real piece of work. And I struggled with addiction, and I've been graced with some beautiful people that helped me in recovery. And yeah, life is recovery now. So once you've got in the deep end, and you've nearly lost everything a few times you realize what's important, and you stay mindful of that and grateful and you just keep working on it.
I'm in a very wonderful place, and I feel very safe. I feel I'm part of something much bigger than myself, which is something I started the band for; I started the band to feel like I'm not alone. And I don't. And that's the only thing I can ask for, as an addict and someone who's got a lot of love to give, is that I feel safe and not alone to give.
Photo courtesy of the artist
Sean Kingston On "Beautiful Girls" Hysteria, Bad Deals & Starting Over On 'Road To Deliverance'
Fifteen years after topping the charts, Sean Kingston will release a comeback album, 'Road to Deliverance,' on Sept. 30. Kingston spoke with GRAMMY.com about the heavily dancehall-influenced record, and what he's been up to in the intervening years.
The story of Sean Kingston is one of incredible highs and deflating lows. "Beautiful Girls," the Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 single released in 2007, saw a teenaged Kingston reach meteoric heights. And while Kingston's early years established him as a pop star, they also introduced him to the harsh realities of the music business. A lack of creative control, bad record deals, and the changing industry landscape were just some of the challenges that pushed him take a step back from the limelight to regroup and refocus.
Yet Kingston was always working in the background, writing and crafting hits for others, like Chris Brown, while simply being a friend to many of the biggest names in music.
Chris Brown is featured on Kingston's current rapidly rising single "Ocean Drive," and their friendship goes way back. "I've known Sean since we were both kids starting out," Brown tells GRAMMY.com. "We've worked together a few times professionally, but I also know the other Sean when we're just playing video games and hanging out."
And while Sean's home in Los Angeles was a hanging out spot for like-minded artists, it was also a hub of creativity. "I wanted to accomplish something for myself…when I came to L.A.," says rapper Trippie Redd. "Sean's been in the game for a while; his spot was where I met many creative people."
Road to Deliverance, Sean’s comeback album, will be released Sept. 30. The album is heavily influenced by reggae and dancehall music, and will be followed by a more pop-leaning album titled Deliverance due early 2023. Kingston spoke with GRAMMY.com about his time at the top of the music charts, the pitfalls of being a young and hungry new artist, what songs he's most excited about on his new album, and what happened to that lost mixtape with Justin Bieber.
Before the interview, I was checking out your YouTube and the "Beautiful Girls" video is almost at a billion views. How does that make you feel when you hear that?
So blessed. It feels amazing. It feels like I created something I always wanted to: timeless music. I am always going to create something with the intention that it's going to be around for ages and something that people are always going to remember.A billion views that's something a lot of people don't have, so it's definitely a great milestone.
There's a perception that following the release of your last album Back to Life in 2013 to the present day, Sean Kingston disappeared from the music industry, and I assume that wasn't the case. What was going on during that time? And why was now the right time to return with greater visibility?
I was caught in some bad situations. I was in some bad [record]deals. When I was younger, I signed a lot of contracts. I was hungry. I didn't know about the music industry like that. I was just trying to get from point A to point B and trying to get discovered.
They weren't terrible, terrible deals, but they were situations I didn't want to be in where I didn't have creative control with my last label. I couldn't drop when I wanted to drop. I wanted to go the independent route, but I had to wait a bit. I regrouped and got some good lawyers —shout-outs to Won-G. Won-G came in on the music management side and helped me get my stuff back on track. Now we're starting from fresh. Everything is cleared up, and I'm good.
I never fell off. I was still giving hits to other people behind the scenes. I wrote a lot of stuff for Chris Brown that people don't know about. It wasn't ever about "oh no, I won't be able to write another hit record again." I didn't want to put out music because my situation wasn't right.
Take us back to the mid-2000s when you had your monster single "Beautiful Girls." What was something you learned about yourself during that time?
How focused I was; I had tunnel vision. I wanted my fans to get more music from me every three weeks. I feel like a new artist again. It's a blessing. I'm excited to start going at it again as I did back then. I love that the sound that I started is still flourishing. The island/pop sound.
A bit of a random question. Whatever happened to the Our World mixtape you recorded with Justin Bieber back in 2010?
We just got busy. He was doing a lot of stuff, and I was doing a lot of stuff. Believe it or not, those sounds are still on the hard drive. I was listening to some of them the other day. Justin's voice sounds so young. My voice sounds so young. I wish we could have dropped it.
Me and Justin recorded fast. He would come on my tour bus, and we had a studio in the back. We didn't have any features on it. Actually, I think Jaden Smith was on one song.
You got your start by messaging producer J.R. Rotem on MySpace. What do you remember about that day you clicked send on that message back in 2007?
I remember it like it was yesterday, me copying and pasting the message and just kept sending it. I'll never forget the day when I got the message. He said, "I'm in L.A., you're in L.A. Let's have a meeting. You need to meet me here now," and I'm like, wait, what?
At the time, I was doing very badly. My mom was in prison. I had to catch two city buses to the meeting, which was in Culver City, and I was in Burbank. I have the meeting with J.R. Rotem, Tommy Rotem, and Zach Katz. I'm playing the first two songs, and they're looking at me, kind of serious but bopping their heads. And when I played the last song, J.R. said, "Yo, we want to sign you to Beluga Heights."
Amazing story. Let's talk about the music on the new album. I got to hear some of the tracks; I dug "Side" and "Lucky Him," which had some of those "Beautiful Girls" vibes. But the song I want to hone in on was "Satisfaction," built around an interpolation of Terror Fabulous' classic dancehall song "Action." How did you come back to "Action" to help develop that record?
Adam, I'm scared of you, man. You really know music. Those are the songs everyone is going crazy about. With "Satisfaction," I feel like we're in an era right now where a lot of people are sampling, but they don't know how to sample and make [their] record have the feel of the original record. But you also put a new twist on it.
With "Satisfaction," I wanted a real repetitive part of the hook, and I wanted it to be chanty, sing-a-long and have a catchy, ear candy vibe. Me and Supa Dupes did that record in Miami.
Regarding the dancehall vibes running through your music, does that happen organically for you in the recording process, or is it intentional?
That's just part of who I am. It just comes from listening to old reggae songs from my parents. I've got the essence in me, and I'm always looking for a good island vibe.
You mentioned a lot of sampling happening. We hear many people say that everything has been done before when it comes to new music, and nothing's original. How do you feel about that? Is it simply harder now to come up with new ideas?
I love bringing old records back to life. Like on "Beautiful Girls," I sampled Ben E. King's "Stand By Me," so I've always been interested in sampling and bringing back records. So as far as "Satisfaction" and sampling Terror Fabulous, to me, the 1990s was one of the best eras of music.
The music industry is turning a corner regarding revenues being up. And we keep hearing this is the best time for artists because there are so many channels to promote your music, and it has never been easier to create music. As someone who began their career at the end of the physical sales era and the beginning of the mp3 era, do you agree that this is the best time to be an artist?
It's easier to go viral and sell records, but you've still got to create something special. It's easier and smoother than when I first came in.
Talk to me a bit about the business of Sean Kingston. You haven't released an album since 2013, but you still have upwards of 11 million monthly listeners on Spotify. How do you make your hits work for you so many years? And what did you do in those early days to establish your brand?
[I established] my original sound. When you come up with a sound, people will never forget that. We are living in a nostalgia moment right now where people miss stuff and want stuff they grew up with. It just happens that a lot of my songs stuck with them. A lot of my stuff goes viral on TikTok. I think it's dope. I go to my shows, and I'm seeing these kids that are 18 singing these songs, and I'm like, wow, you guys were like 6 years old when this came out.
To close things off, I wanted to ask what advice you would give to an artist starting out today.
Do you. Keep God first. Stay hungry. Be original and stay in your lane and be consistent. Nowadays, these kids want music consistently.
Photo: Michael Goldman
Terri Lyne Carrington Is Making Strides For Inclusion And Mentorship In Jazz. And You Can Hear All Of Them In Her Sound.
With her 'New Standards' multimedia project, the extraordinary drummer Terri Lyne Carrington is fighting the good fight for representation of women composers. And all of it leads back to her mighty sound — and her connectivity with her fellow musicians.
A rainshower of recent press coverage has positioned Terri Lyne Carrington as a conservator, a custodian, a caretaker of the canon — and that's deservedly so.
In Sept. 2022, the three-time GRAMMY-winning drummer released New Standards: 101 Lead Sheets by Women Composers. This sheet music collection rebalances the gender scales and shines a light on women who have been blatantly underrepresented in male-dominated "fake books" — figures like Toshiko Akiyoshi, Geri Allen, Joanne Brackeen, Carla Bley, and Mary Lou Williams.
Accompanying this was new STANDARDS vol. 1 — the first in a series of albums aiming to cover all 101 compositions. Therein, Carrington, pianist Kris Davis, bassist Linda May Han Oh, trumpeter Nicholas Payton, and guitarist Matthew Stevens interpreted compositions by women composers represented in the book — like Brandee Younger's "Respected Destroyer," clarinetist Anet Cohen's "Ima," and Bley's "Two Hearts (Lawns)."
This multimedia project does a lot to contextualize Carrington as something of a gravitational center for gender equity in jazz. As an NEA Jazz Master — one of the highest honors a musician in this field can receive — with decades of experience under her belt, Carrington is a worthy representative for this sea change in classrooms, conservatories, workshops and stages.
But while New Standards is a historic and long-overdue achievement, discussions of exactly why Carrington fits into this nexus can get lost in the sauce. Carrington is an extraordinary musician — full stop.
Both her records and live performances speak volumes about how she brings people from divergent backgrounds together, engenders rapport between them, and encourages them to forge forward on their own terms.
No matter which setting or ensemble she appears in, Carrington conjures an ineffable center of gravity. When she's behind the kit, the music takes on new architecture, fresh integrity and a unique sense of purpose and destination.
This was wholly apparent onstage at New York's Village Vanguard in May, when Carrington appeared as part of Kris Davis' Diatom Ribbons ensemble, alongside guitarist Julian Lage, turntablist Val Jeanty and bassist Trevor Dunn.
"I like ebb and flow, and the other thing is time feel. Kris has amazing time, so we connect," Carrington tells GRAMMY.com over Zoom, with her dry, languid and down-to-earth manner. "Also, this reference you would have in common has to do with phrasing. If she plays a phrase, I'm able to hear where it's going before it goes there, and vice versa." (Adds Davis: "She knows when to light a fire, and when to sit back and let things happen.")
But time and phrasing aside, what accounts for the heft in her playing? The heaving, pendulum-like swing? The sense that even a strike of a ride cymbal is a declaration?
Terri Lyne Carrington. Photo: Michael Goldman
The River Of Tradition
Matthew Stevens, who plays in Carrington's ensemble Social Science, sees her work through the lens of the lineage. He names a few stupendous, highly compositional drummers before her: Roy Haynes, Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, and her personal mentor, Jack DeJohnette.
"She has a certain way of playing time that's really rare by today's standards," Stevens tells GRAMMY.com. "And I think it's just by virtue of coming up under and playing with the mentors that she played with."
The path to DeJohnette came by way of Carrington's early life, when her father exposed her to heavy-grooving records, including those by James Brown and organ trios led by Jimmy Smith, "Brother" Jack McDuff, and Richard "Groove" Holmes.
"The velocity of drummers — of pushing a band — that was my foundation," Carrington says. From there, she analyzed the mechanics of timekeeping, and the concept of interweaving drums through the music in a perpetual flow of organized improvisation.
"I don't feel like I even like to solo," she adds, "because I feel like I'm soloing through everybody else's solo." And all of these concepts are in abundance within DeJohnette, a two-time GRAMMY winner and one of the most revered jazz drummers of the 1970s and beyond.
A Mentor In DeJohnette
Among other accomplishments during his long and storied career, DeJohnette has played on electric Miles classics like Bitches Brew, worked with saxophone luminaries like John Coltrane, Jackie McLean and Charles Lloyd, and cut albums in various contexts for ECM Records. And contemporary offerings like 2016's In Movement show that his abilities remain undimmed.
DeJohnette and Carrington met when she was about 16, by the elder drummer's estimation. From early on, her budding mentor encouraged see the big picture in music, and the value of people — and she not only listened to his counsel, but ran with it.
"We wouldn't really talk about the drums, necessarily, but we listened to music," he tells GRAMMY.com. "She's got her own sound and her own approach, and she started expanding… She learned how to be a good leader, and to get the most out of the musicians she worked with. That's what a good drummer does — inspire the players to forge ahead."
"He's just a really well-rounded drummer who's very organic, and I think that's what I related to with his playing," Carrington says. "He was very open, he could play free — he could play straight-ahead, of course, and could play funky stuff. So, I was very much inspired by him."
Watching Carrington do her thing live, you'll see one of DeJohnette's axioms play out: "We're always trying to be free within the boundaries."
"I like to keep stretching and pushing the boundaries as far as I can, so you're remaining open and can figure out organically: What's the next thing I can do to take the music someplace else?" Carrington says. "It's always about a journey and a mystery: How do I find a mystery? What can I do at this moment to bring things together, or mess things up in a good way, or inspire somebody else, or inspire myself to play something I feel really good about?"
Carrington was asking herself these questions when she performed in Detroit with saxophonist Wayne Shorter, bassist and vocalist Esperanza Spalding, and pianist Leo Genovese — which was just released on Sept. 9 as Live At The Detroit Jazz Festival 2017.
Her Connectivity In Action
The titanic (and sadly underheralded) pianist and composer Geri Allen was supposed to be on the gig; on June 27 of that year, she had passed away at only 60. In mourning, the reconstituted quartet decided to perform her "Drummer's Song" and dedicate the evening to her.
In this context, the boundaries were partly dictated by these four specific musicians from differing generations, and their matrix of memories and inspirations related to Allen.
"She was looking forward to that show; I remember we were talking about it," Carrington rues. "But the four of us have a strong history in varying ways. There was a lot of love on this stage, and a lot of trust, and a lot of knowledge about each other musically and personally; we've played together a lot."
What transpired on that stage — as you can hear on the record — is what happens when Carrington's the rhythmic core of any ensemble; it takes on a majestic logic of its own.
After the show, "I remember Esperanza, Leo and I kind of looked at each other without saying anything. We all gave that look of, 'Did you feel it, too? Did you feel what I felt?' … It's kind of a lifetime of preparation that sometimes comes together on a certain evening."
That unshakeable integrtion — not just with her fellow musicians, but those before her — permeates all facets of Carrington's work. As the Founder and Artistic Director of the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice since 2005, she, in the words of her online bio, "teaches, mentors, and advocates for musicians seeking to study jazz with racial justice and gender justice as guiding principles."
How did social justice come to be part and parcel with Carrington's career? She says it was incremental — and predated her position at said collegiate institute.
A Swell Of Empathy
"I started having empathy for people who had experiences I didn't experience," she recalls. "If a woman came up to me and said, 'I'm having this trouble,' I would just give her advice based on my life, which I realized was not the right thing: 'Oh, just plow through. Just be the best.' Or, 'You can; just don't pay attention to that!'"
This enhanced consideration of discrepancies felt across the gender and racial spectrum led Carrington on the path to New Standards. "Then, you start thinking about animal justice or environmental justice," she says. "All the other things that you want to be involved with, or concerned about, so you leave the planet better than when you found it, if that's possible."
This value system is harmonious with that of the Recording Academy, which continually fights for the rights of all music people through MusiCares, Advocacy, and many other outlets. And naturally, Carrington was a prime candidate for their Board of Trustees, where she served for two terms.
And given her positive experience, she's thinking of getting involved again.
Terri Lyne Carrington. Photo: Michael Goldman
"I just termed out as a trustee, but I learned a lot and became a voice for the things that I'm concerned with, which tend to be on the margins," she says. "Just think jazz; that's on the margins when you think about the Academy, because it's such a small percentage of consumed music and the mentorship."
Reflecting on her time with the Academy, Carrington cites a common flaw in public understanding of the organization.
"Everybody wants to win a GRAMMY, but a lot of people either don't join, or don't vote, or don't get involved," she says. "The best way to do that is to get involved and understand the organization — and the biggest thing is to serve."
Translating this advice into action, Carrington has worked under the organization's umbrella to continue pushing for constructive change. Of course, you don't need to play an instrument — much less master one — to do that.
But Carrington has. Which means the heartbeat of her values — and how she relates to and communicates with her fellow musicians — rings out for all who will listen.
"A Bridge Between Worlds"
"She's a visionary, and most likely the hardest-working person I know," bassist Linda May Han Oh, who performed on new STANDARDS vol. 1, tells GRAMMY.com.
Oh calls Carrington "a bridge between worlds" capable of bringing disparate people and communities together for the love of music-making: "She's able to connect like-minded musicians who may not even be from the same genre, from the same style."
"She's a beautiful human being, someone you are drawn to and can easily connect with," he tells GRAMMY.com. But this interpersonal amenability never translated to meek or docile playing — far from it.
"She's such an exciting and explosive drummer, never playing it safe," Ferrante adds, remembering working with her quartet in tandem with her Yellowjackets affiliation. "I quickly realized her music demanded a heightened level of focus and listening. So much is implied in her playing, and a momentary lapse of focus and concentration came at your own peril!"
"Her intuition is in alignment with Linda and I," Davis says about making music with Carrington. "That push-and-pull, with drama and creating a storyline in the music."
That word — "storyline" — piques curiosity. Especially when considering Carrington's role in the music community, whether she's shaping the flow of an ensemble, mentoring young talent or changing the game via lead-sheet representation for women.
Because Carrington isn't just telling a story within the bounds of a composition, or a gig, or a record date, or even her catalog in its entirety. Her wider story could involve all of us.