Photo courtesy of M3 — Mutual Mentorship For Musicians
Women And Gender-Expansive Jazz Musicians Face Constant Indignities. This Mentorship Organization Is Tackling The Problem From All Angles.
Mutual Mentorship for Musicians — or M³ — offers an alternative to the often chauvinistic, corrosive power structures in the jazz world. Better yet, they're far from alone.
Romarna Campbell had a sneaking suspicion that she was being tokenized. So she decided to indulge in a little mischief.
When the UK-based drummer was commissioned for a piece, she noticed something was off. Her male counterpart had received a detailed prompt; Campbell just got a bare request for music. "There was no guidance. There was no, 'We would like it in this space, or to be inspired by this,'" she tells GRAMMY.com. "They were very much more interested in having press shots and biographies than they were in this commission."
Campbell felt blithely compartmentalized — an unwilling vessel for a performative gesture. "It baffles me that you could reduce my art solely to me being Black or being a woman because it ticks a box for you somewhere," she continues. "And probably a funding box as well." To get one over on them, Campbell submitted the most rudimentary, half-baked music she could drum up — mostly some MIDI loops with rotten harmonies.
And, of course, it was accepted enthusiastically.
"During my friend's commission, he was sending them parts and they would give him feedback," she says. "I sent them this trash commission, and they sent me this really happy email that was like, 'Oh, Romarna, we're so grateful for your artistry.'" Campbell called out the commissioners, directing them to her Bandcamp stuffed with fully conceptualized and executed works as a point of reference.
When they requested a new composition, Campbell asked for more money — as she'd held up her end of the contract — which they couldn't, or wouldn't, give. And when they asked for a meeting about her experience to ascertain how they could improve it, Campbell refused.
"I'm not a cultural or diversity consultant," she says. "So, why is that my responsibility for an organization that's trying to say that they have this diverse roster of musicians and composers?"
Romarna Campbell. Photo: Iza Korzack
Campbell's story resonates because it bears so many hallmarks of what women and gender-expansive musicians face in jazz and creative-music spaces: tokenism, patronization, a request to "educate" those perpetrating such attitudes. This is ironic given how couched in progressive politics and academia this world is — imbued with an intellectual air.
Granted, women and gender-expansive musicians have made strides over the decades. Not only are brilliant yet underheralded artists of yore like Mary Lou Williams, Geri Allen and Lil Hardin increasingly venerated, analyzed and discussed, but the pages of magazines like DownBeat and JazzTimes are full of women and non-cis, non-hetero musicians.
But in almost every sector of the jazz world, there's a long way to go — from how writers talk about women, to fair representation on festival lineups, to interpersonal interactions at residencies and workshops, and so on.
That's why Campbell joined up with M³, or Mutual Mentorship for Musicians — a community meant to establish "a new model of mentorship" that elevates women and gender-expansive musicians, while offering chances for unique, collaborative commissions.
Jen Shyu, a co-founder of M³. Photo: Daniel Reichert
Founded by musicians Jen Shyu and Sara Serpa in 2020, M³ is just one of a host of jazz-adjacent organizations offering an alternative to outdated and occasionally corrosive systems of gatekeeping, hierarchy and exclusion.
Because of the sheer diversity of its members' creative and cultural backgrounds, M³ provides a wellspring of insight. Across a litany of interviews with its members, common themes emerge — identifying fundamental issues, but also potential solutions.
"I think part of it needs to be developed on a grassroots level, on a community level, and even moreso on a structural and cultural level — where the culture starts to shift in terms of it being a male-driven community and culture," saxophonist and composer Caroline Davis tells GRAMMY.com. "This patriarchal, boys' club situation."
In Davis' view, a possible first step to challenging that paradigm is simply being mindful of the way we talk to each other in the jazz community — including who gets the often bandied-upon designator of "genius."
"Older women are not geniuses, but older men are always geniuses and they have their following," Serpa notes. "And I'm not talking about people in the mainstream or who have access and resources. We have had musicians in our cohorts that have been on the scene for 30, 40 years. Even us — we haven't heard of them."
Plus, in the jazz community, especially adept players are often described as "killing" or "murdering" or "taking no prisoners." Obviously, nobody means that literally, and it's generally meant as a term of endearment or admiration. Still, Davis says, speech like that can alienate in surprising ways — and not simply due to varying tastes or sensibilities.
"It could be as simple as us shifting our language to include less brutalized words," she continues. "Maybe that seems performative, but I think it actually makes a huge difference to shift the way we talk about music, and the way people are sharing music."
Guitarist and composer Jessica Ackerley agrees: "Everything is rooted in harming other people," they tell GRAMMY.com. "Which is completely ridiculous."
Sara Serpa, a co-founder of M³. Photo: Ebru Yildiz
To fellow M³ member Anjna Swaminathan, this doesn't just serve to swerve around sensitivities — it offers a more holistic and inclusive model of success that doesn't just mean brute athleticism and might.
"It becomes this ego fest of how fast you can play, how complex you can get, how many polyrhythms you can learn," Swaminthan, a multidisciplinary artist, tells GRAMMY.com. "Straight, cis, white men who probably thought that they were happy with that success — they themselves will be able to heal, because we are offering another option."
But a need for more thoughtful language doesn't just extend to the classroom, or backstage, or in private conversation; it applies to how journalists write about musicians who aren't straight, white males.
Sticking To The Music — And Dispensing Of Boxes
In features, profiles and reviews, wrongheaded writing usually goes in one of two directions. The first is an example of old-school chauvinism — a writer salivating over a femme-presenting person's appearance before dealing with their art in any meaningful way.
The second is shoehorning them into readymade categories — even, or especially, when it's to a "progressive" end. Miriam Elhajli, a singer, composer and improviser who uses she/they pronouns, recalls one particularly off-putting exchange to this end.
"Someone was trying to write this article about me, and they were like, 'Well, tell me about your sexuality. What are your pronouns?' And I was just like, 'Honestly, dude, this has nothing to do with the music," she tells GRAMMY.com. "I don't want to tell you any of that s—t because it has nothing to do with it."
Elhajli goes on to question the idea of "having my moment to shine" — just because they happen to fit in a category of marginalized people at a convenient time.
Miriam Elhajli. Photo: Daniel Katzenstein
"There's boundaries, and there's a personal life too," they say. "I don't want to be pigeonholed. I contain multitudes. Why should I have to adhere to any identity politics? Identity politics are just getting really claustrophobic right now for me. We're missing the plot a little bit."
Campbell's thinking would seem to jibe with this; she highlights how attempts at inclusivity can tip over into reductionism. This aligns with M³'s grander aim — not to divide musicians by perceived degrees of marginalization, but reflect the reality on the ground and open doors for talent from all walks of life.
"Maybe we can have a relationship between macho [behavior] and jazz in the history of jazz," pianist and composer Paula Shocron, who hails from Buenos Aires, tells GRAMMY.com. "But if you go to the States and see the jazz scenes, it’s not the same."
"I just want to make it clear that we're not, in doing this mutual mentorship for musicians program, [we're not making] an effort to eschew or exclude anyone," Davis adds.
As Shyu puts it to GRAMMY.com, "It's important to educate, but, at some point people have to educate themselves. We've made this model of M³. We want people to embrace that and make their own mentorship models. But at some point, don't the men and the white cis males, need to also have these conversations?
"It's more of an effort to say, 'Come along with us," Davis adds. "We're all here trying to fight this together, and we need everyone.'" This doesn't only apply to M³, but all the other organizations in their constellation trying to make jazz and creative music a fairer, more holistic place.
A Constellation Of Initiatives
Next Jazz Legacy, an apprenticeship program for women and nonbinary musicians, helmed by The New Music USA organization and Berklee Institute of Jazz & Gender Justice, is pushing for the same outcome.
"We not only have to face the facts that misogyny and sexism are still very much a part of the music industry," Terri Lyne Carrington, a GRAMMY-winning drummer and Next Jazz Legacy's artistic director, said in 2022. "We have to change the systems and patterns that have remained oppressive in order for the music to fully flourish and match how humanity is evolving."
When Kris Davis, a pianist and composer at the cutting edge of the New York scene, got the call from Carrington about Next Jazz Legacy, she felt close to tears.
"I thought, 'Wow, she's really going to make a difference. The mentors are super famous musicians,'" she tells GRAMMY.com. "And whether people know about the grant or not, they're going to see these young people's names next to these incredible mentors — and that's saying something to the community." (Today, she's on the advisory board.)
Linda May Han Oh, an Australian bassist who works in an apprenticeship role at Next Jazz Legacy, views these dovetailing initiatives as working in parallel with women's and LGBTQ+ rights writ large — including transforming gender roles and the right to vote.
"It's always been a very traditional role for a woman to be a wife, to be a mother, to stay at home while the male, the husband, works and tours and brings in the money," she tells GRAMMY.com. "And I think that in itself lends itself to inequality or inequity."
Oh impresses upon her students the importance of cultivating "your own resilience and your resourcefulness in a way that you can be as independent as you possibly can," she says. "It's a combination of grit, but also flexibility."
Also of note is jazz luminary Dee Dee Bridgewater's Woodshed Network Residency, which focuses on connecting, supporting and educating women and non-gender-conforming artists. In an interview with JazzTimes, Bridgewater's daughter and manager, Tulani, who co-founded the residency, cited "an appreciation for the gift of mentorship I’ve received at various junctures."
“I’ve tried to give back along the way,” she added. "But this opportunity created by my greatest mentor, my mother, offered a concrete and focused way to pay that forward."
Speaking with GRAMMY.com, the elder Bridgewater — a two-time GRAMMY winner — explains her unique, pragmatic approach to mentoring young women.
"I decided that I would concentrate on the business aspect of the music industry and try and give women a kind of head start for their careers," she says, "knowing that they would have all the information that they needed to have a career, to start a career, or to take the career to the next level — if they already had one started, but it was kind of faltering.
"It was born out of a kind of necessity," she continues. And if you wonder where rising musicians like saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin and bassist Amina Scott got their launchpad, thank Dee Dee Bridgewater for recognizing that necessity.
These types of programs are far from exclusively stateside affairs. REVA Inc, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit with an aim to "develop art experiences that educate, inspire and heal people and communities," has a purview reaching as far as South Africa.
And the seed was an online hang during the pandemic, facilitated by their co-artistic director — tenor saxophonist, pianist and composer Jessica Jones, who also has run JazzGirls Day at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York. The name? Global JazzWomenHang.
Soon, it was wholeheartedly embraced by a number of women from a South African jazz camp, Jazz Camp for Female Instrumentalists Mamelodi, and eventually hosted by one of the camp's founders, bassist and composer Sibongile Buda.
Akhutleleng Kekwaletswe, Jessica Jones and Sibongile Buda. Photo: Leroy Nyoni
When the pandemic made live performance impossible, Buda saw an opportunity. "[We searched] for a bigger concept of performance that could incorporate people in different countries," she tells GRAMMY.com. "And also show how the number of women has increased in all the countries that we kind of tapped into."
The online collaboration network eventually blossomed into a real-life festival in Botswana, helmed by Buda, Jones and saxophonist and music teacher Akhutleleng Kekwaletswe. A preceding one-day workshop arranged by Kekwaletswe found more than 50 girls on different instruments; the festival itself involved 24 women on stage.
"The future is very bright, That's a very common line in Botswana: 'The future is bright,' meaning that you see some hope," Kekwaletswe says. "There is a lot of positivity and positive energy towards what we are doing."
The complete festival lineup. Photo: Nthabiseng Segoe
Throughout the jazz ecosystem, this mission has serious wind in its sails. To say nothing of the Women in Jazz Organization (WIJO), whose membership has a significant overlap with M³ and Next Jazz Legacy. Among WIJO's mentorship class are Carrington, Caroline Davis, pianists Helen Sung and Marta Sanchez, trumpeter Bria Skonberg, and other modern greats.
"The impact that being a woman has on your pursuit of a jazz career can't be boiled down into one issue, nor should it," WIJO's founder, saxophonist Roxy Coss, told DANSR. Therein, she noted the multitude of indignities often involved: microaggressions, exclusions, discouragements, dismissals. "The fact of being a woman affects your experience entirely, and the specific ways it affects one's pursuit are often unnoticed, even by the woman herself."
This may hold true on stages, in conservatories, and in classrooms, and we've assuredly got a long way to go. But, rest assured: as this field goes, we've got our best and brightest on the case. And few who behold them on the bandstand would dare to say otherwise.
Summer Is For Jazz Festivals
Do you want to hear some great jazz? Conventional wisdom would suggest that you need to visit New York to see jazz in all of its glory. But, if you want to see live jazz and get the biggest bang for your hard-earned buck, you should check out a jazz festival. It doesn't matter where you're located or how big (or small) your budget is, there is likely a cool jazz event happening in a town or city near you.
The 36th Annual Atlanta Jazz Festival will kick off during Memorial Day weekend, May 25–27, in Piedmont Park. Fans will be able to enjoy the music of BWB (a super group comprising Rick Braun and GRAMMY winners Kirk Whalum and Norman Brown featuring special guest GRAMMY winner Chrisette Michele), bassist Meshell Ndegeocello, saxist Tia Fuller, and trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire's quintet. The festival will also highlight up-and-coming artists such as vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant and pianist/composer Aaron Diehl with his quartet.
Over on the West Coast you can find more live music to savor at the 15th Annual Healdsburg Jazz Festival in Sonoma County in California. This year's 10-day schedule (May 31–June 9) includes a two-day tribute to 2013 Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Charlie Haden, featuring performances by multi-instrumentalist/composer Carla Bley, Haden's Quartet West with special guest GRAMMY nominee Ravi Coltrane, alto saxist Lee Konitz, guitarist Bill Frisell, and pianist Geri Allen, among others. Additional artists scheduled to perform during the festival include GRAMMY-nominated African-American a cappella ensemble Sweet Honey In The Rock, saxist/flautist Charles Lloyd and pianist Jason Moran, the Sylvia Cuenca Trio, and the Marcus Shelby Orchestra and HJF Freedom Jazz Choir.
If you are north of the U.S. border, don't worry. On June 28 Canada residents will enjoy the beginning of the International Jazz Festival in Montreal. Through July 7, the festival will feature an array of legendary musical talent, including GRAMMY winners Aretha Franklin, George Benson, Wynton Marsalis, and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, among others.
The following event should not be missed: saxist/composer and multi-GRAMMY winner Wayne Shorter will celebrate his 80th birthday during the Montreal jazz festival with a star-studded performance with Danilo Perez, John Patitucci, Brian Blade, Joe Lovano, and the Dave Douglas Quintet. Also set to perform are ACS: Allen, Carrington, Spalding, which will feature pianist Geri Allen and GRAMMY winners drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and bassist Esperanza Spalding.
If you decide to fit a jazz festival into your summer plans this year, you are sure to hear fantastic music, meet cool people and enjoy great food, too.
Watch Lido Pimienta, Poppy, Burna Boy & More Perform In Full 2021 GRAMMY Awards Show Premiere Ceremony Video
Witness the entire 2021 GRAMMY Awards Premiere Ceremony, with music from Burna Boy, Lido Pimienta, Poppy, Terri Lyne Carrington with Social Science, and more
Every year, ahead of the GRAMMY Awards show airing live on CBS, the majority of the golden gramophones are presented at the Premiere Ceremony. Always a lively event, it also features stellar performances from nominated artists. The 2021 GRAMMY Awards Premiere Ceremony was no different, and took us around the world with music from Burna Boy, Lido Pimienta, Poppy, Igor Levit, Jimmy "Duck" Holmes, Terri Lyne Carrington with Social Science, Rufus Wainwright, and a star-studded cast paying tribute to Marvin Gaye with "Mercy Mercy Me."
Watch the 63rd GRAMMY Awards Premiere Ceremony in full below.
Check out all the complete 2021 GRAMMY Awards show winners and nominees list here.
Exploring The GRAMMYs' Jazz Field Nominees
Go inside the nominations in the Jazz Field categories for the 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards
You've seen the list of nominees, now take a closer look at the artists nominated in the Jazz Field for the 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards.
The nominees in the Jazz Field stretch from veteran artists to newcomers, with five-time GRAMMY winner Randy Brecker, 16-time GRAMMY winner Chick Corea, three-time nominee Fred Hersch, and two-time winner Sonny Rollins earning two nominations each. The women of jazz take the lead in the Best Jazz Vocal Album category with previous nominees Karrin Allyson, Terri Lyne Carrington and Tierney Sutton going up against newcomer Roseanna Vitro and GRAMMY winner Kurt Elling.
Best Improvised Jazz Solo
In the Best Improvised Jazz Solo category, seasoned artists mix with a newer crop of jazz luminaries. Tenor saxophone legend and Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Sonny Rollins, whose previous GRAMMY Awards include Best Jazz Instrumental Album, Individual Or Group for This Is What I Do in 2001, is nominated for "Sonnymoon For Two," from Road Shows Vol. 2. Pianist Chick Corea earned his 56th career GRAMMY nomination for his solo outing on "500 Miles High" from the album Forever, which he recorded with Stanley Clarke and Lenny White. Corea's most recent GRAMMY win came in 2009 for Best Jazz Instrumental Album, Individual Or Group for Five Piece Band — Live. Another jazz veteran on the list is two-time GRAMMY-winning bassist Ron Carter, who is up for his solo on "You Are My Sunshine," from This Is Jazz. Also garnering nominations are well-established jazz mainstays, trumpeter Randy Brecker for "All Or Nothing At All" from The Jazz Ballad Song Book, and pianist Fred Hersch for his solo on "Work," from Alone At The Vanguard.
Best Jazz Vocal Album
The Best Jazz Vocal Album category is dominated by women, who earned four of the five nominations. Percussionist Terri Lyne Carrington showed a strong vocal presence on her eclectic album The Mosaic Project. This is the second GRAMMY nomination of her career, following her nod for Best Jazz Fusion Performance for her 1989 debut, Real Life Story. Three-time GRAMMY nominees Karrin Allyson and Tierney Sutton are also in the running, the latter garnering a nod for her eclectic and American music-geared concept album, American Road. Allyson is nominated for her ballad-heavy project 'Round Midnight. Roseanna Vitro, a celebrated vocalist who released her debut album in 1982, earns her first GRAMMY nomination for her jazz-flavored ode to a pop songwriting icon, The Music Of Randy Newman. Kurt Elling, up for his album The Gate, is no stranger to the GRAMMY Awards. Elling has received nine nominations previously, and won his first GRAMMY in 2009 in this category for Dedicated To You: Kurt Elling Sings The Music Of Coltrane And Hartman.
Best Jazz Instrumental Album
Partly because the blend of improvisation and content is a key factor in jazz, three of the Best Improvised Jazz Solo nominees this year are also present in the Best Jazz Instrumental Album category. Corea, who reunited with his old fusion band allies from Return To Forever, Clarke and White, for an acoustic jazz mode, is up for Forever. For Hersch, piano has been the instrument of choice and the source of his long strong reputation as an artist, educator and bandleader. He is nominated for his solo piano album Alone At The Vanguard. Rollins captures his second nomination for the latest installment in his series of live albums, Road Shows Vol. 2. Tenor saxist Joe Lovano and Us Five reach back a few generations to pay tribute to the late Charlie Parker on Bird Songs. Up-and-coming pianist Gerald Clayton, son of big band leader John Clayton, scored a nod for Bond: The Paris Sessions. The lone band nominated in the category are two-time GRAMMY winners Yellowjackets. The fusion quartet are up for their album Timeline.
Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album
In this category, the nominees vary in age and experience across several decades. Six-time GRAMMY nominee Gerald Wilson has been a stalwart West Coast-based pillar of the big band scene dating back to the '50s, lending credence to the title of his nominated album with the Gerald Wilson Orchestra, Legacy. Lauded Puerto Rican-born alto saxist/composer Miguel Zenón has graduated from emerging to established artist, and has expanded the ensemble scope for his nominated album, Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook. The Latin jazz element is also strongly represented in 40 Acres And A Burro, from Arturo O'Farrill & The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, a band that grew out of the group led by O'Farrill's father, Chico O'Farrill. Arturo O'Farrill previously won a GRAMMY for Best Latin Jazz Album for his tribute to his father, 2008's Song For Chico. GRAMMY-winning bassist and gifted bandleader Christian McBride earned a nod for his foray into the big band world, The Good Feeling, with the Christian McBride Big Band. Tapping into the riches and opportunities of the legendary European big band scene, trumpeter Brecker earned his large ensemble moment in the sun with The Jazz Ballad Song Book, featuring the DR Big Band.
Who will take home the awards in the Jazz Field categories? Tune in to the 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards on Feb. 12, taking place at Staples Center in Los Angeles and airing live on CBS from 8–11:30 p.m. (ET/PT).
Follow GRAMMY.com for our inside look at GRAMMY news, blogs, photos, videos, and of course nominees. Stay up to the minute with GRAMMY Live. Check out the GRAMMY legacy with GRAMMY Rewind. Explore this year's GRAMMY Fields. Or check out the collaborations at Re:Generation, presented by Hyundai Veloster. And join the conversation at Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
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.