meta-scriptTerri Lyne Carrington Is Making Strides For Inclusion And Mentorship In Jazz. And You Can Hear All Of Them In Her Sound. | GRAMMY.com
Terri Lyne Carrington Is Making Strides For Inclusion And Mentorship In Jazz. And You Can Hear All Of Them In Her Sound.
Terri Lyne Carrington

Photo: Michael Goldman

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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.

GRAMMYs/Sep 28, 2022 - 09:53 pm

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?

TerriLyneCarrington

*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.

TerriLyneCarrington

*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."

Russell Ferrante, the only remaining original member of GRAMMY-winning jazz-fusion greats Yellowjackets, thinks back fondly on Carrington's period of working with the band in the early 2000s.

"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.

One Night In The Eyes Of Eternity: How In Common III Speaks To Jazz As An Intergenerational Form

Meet The First-Time Nominee: Lakecia Benjamin On 'Phoenix,' Dogged Persistence & Constant Evolution
Lakecia Benjamin

Photo: Elizabeth Leitzell

interview

Meet The First-Time Nominee: Lakecia Benjamin On 'Phoenix,' Dogged Persistence & Constant Evolution

"I decided the best thing I could do is to take my future into my own hands," says the ascendant alto saxophonist. Lakecia Benjamin shares her road to the 2024 GRAMMYs, where she's nominated for three golden gramophones for 'Phoenix.'

GRAMMYs/Jan 10, 2024 - 04:13 pm

Lakecia Benjamin didn't call her last album Pursuance just because it's a Coltrane tune. Sure, that guest-stuffed 2020 album paid tribute to John and Alice — but also to Benjamin's indomitable doggedness.

And over Zoom — where she looks crisp and prosperous in futuristic, trapezoidal glasses and a chunky, ornate gold necklace — Benjamin's tenacity is palpable.

"You've got to just say, Until the day I die, I'm not going to stop," Benjamin declares to GRAMMY.com. "I only have one gig today. Okay, tomorrow I'll have two. The next day I'll have three, and I'm not going to leave. I'm not going to stop. Oh, I don't have a record deal. I'm not stopping."

So much could have tripped her up for good: The jam sessions she was laughed out of, with a dismissal to "Go learn changes." The epic cat-herding session for
Pursuance, which could have fallen apart completely. The car accident she suffered in 2021, on the way home from a gig, which could have easily been fatal.

Benjamin just wanted 2023's Phoenix to be a worthy entry in her growing discography. The jazz saxophonist didn't have GRAMMY dreams; she didn't even presume it would be more successful than Pursuance.

Now, Phoenix is nominated for three golden gramophones at the 2024 GRAMMYs: Best Instrumental Album, Best Jazz Performance ("Basquiat") and Best Instrumental Composition ("Amerikkan Skin").

"I was just trying to tell my story about what happened to me, what's continuously happening to me," Benjamin says of Phoenix, which was produced by four-time GRAMMY-winning drummer and composer Terri Lyne Carrington. "Just trying to give people an idea of what it's like to be resilient, what it's like to not give up, what it's like to fight.

Read on for an interview with Benjamin about her journey to the GRAMMYs, and where she unpacks her personal dictum, which should apply to creatives the world over: "Keep going. Keep going. Keep going."

This interview has been edited for clarity.

What role have the GRAMMYs historically played in your life?

I remember being a little kid, watching the GRAMMYs and all. As a musician, at least in America, it's the highest award you can get.

It's something that you dream about. You dream about being nominated. You dream about walking on that stage. You dream about being in that audience, seeing your other peers and superstars performing. I personally dreamed about the red carpet.

Are there past jazz nominees that you found super inspiring?

All of them, really. Chick Corea, Christian McBride, Ron Carter, Terri Lyne, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter. There are just so many.

I first interviewed you for JazzTimes about your album-length tribute to John and Alice Coltrane, Pursuance. What was the underlying theme of Phoenix?

Just the idea that things are possible. You don't have to get things done in a certain timeline, in a certain frame. You just have to keep going, with a lot of determination. That was my goal.

I did not think that the reception would have been bigger than Pursuance. There's no way I saw that coming. It's been a really wild rollercoaster year, for sure.

Working with Terri Lyne Carrington was a huge step. It seems like you were swinging for something bigger. What was that thing?

She was actually the catalyst for the whole thing. I picked her before I even had the music — everything — because I wanted someone that could get the best out of me. Someone who's going to tell me the truth, tell me when it's not good enough, tell me what's not possible.

I felt that the guests that I have picked in mind — and they had already agreed to the project — were in her sphere of people that she's worked with. I felt she could understand my dedication in this project to highlight women musicians, and to highlight [how] women musicians have had to climb the ladder, and sometimes they fall back down and climb back up again.

I felt that her story is a true testament of that. I just felt she embodied where I am right now, and what I'm trying to do.

Terri Lyne commands such a musical universe. You could have made Phoenix with so many different configurations and ensembles. What made these particular folks perfect to tell your story?

The fact that [pianist] Patrice Rushen started as a jazz musician, moved into the pop world, super megastar, back into the jazz world, back into the trenches, still teaching and still educating.

Angela Davis — a huge iconic figure — had her own adversities. They all represent in their own stories the idea of persevering, the idea to keep going, but also doing that while operating at an extremely high level.

As a musician myself, there's always self-doubt about the past. I wish I did this when I was younger, I wish I made this choice, I wish I pushed harder, blah, blah. But it took until my thirties to realize that I have all this life to live. I don't have to cram everything into the now and beat myself up. It seems like you had a similar moment of self-realization.

I guess I still have those struggles as well too. I think we all do, but I think you start to realize you're alive right now.

You can't control what you did 10 years ago. You can't control what you did five years ago. You can only control what's happening right now, and you could sit around and sit in that regret and doubt, and that becomes your story. Or, you could choose to get up and decide, I'm going to make a new reality for myself. I'm going to brand myself, and I'm going to try to accomplish the things that I'm dreaming about.

Why dream about, If I had known this 10 years ago, I would've did this? But it's right now, you know it. You can go ahead forward and try to get there. You don't have to listen to other people's limitations, the part of their life and their reality. But it's not a part of yours.

We're all on Jazz Instagram. We see everyone competing over gigs and vibing each other out. It seems like you're trying to get out of that rat race and be like Terri Lyne, where it's a whole life — a continuum.

That's what I started thinking. Even as a bandleader, everyone's in this pool, crabs in a barrel trying to drag each other down, waiting for a call, waiting to say, "I have more gigs," waiting to say, "I have more GRAMMYs," and I decided the best thing I could do is to take my future into my own hands.

If I become a bandleader, if I'm making the calls, I'm the one doing this. I have a little bit more control, and then I can choose to say, You know what? I'm going to try to live out my dreams, and if it doesn't work out for me, I can die knowing I gave it my all. I did everything I can to get the things I want in life.

And to me, that's enough — if I know that I've tried the very best I can to do something.

What helped you get out of that tunnel-vision mindset?

I wouldn't say I'm all the way out of it, because those thoughts creep in; you're programmed this way. But I do think you have to just say, There's no other road I can take. I'm going straight. I'm not going through the sewer. If there's a roadblock, I'm not going to the left. I'm going straight down this road.

When I did Pursuance [I thought], You know what? I got all 45 of these cats up in here. I did it myself, on my dime, on my time, the way I wanted to do it.

After that, there's immense pressure. What's going to happen with Phoenix? Is it going to be good enough? Is it going to be this? And to know I was able to tell my own story. I was able to get these guests the same way, figure it out, get this music together and get it together, lets me know that I may be crawling to get there, but I'm getting there.

I'm moving forward, and I'm doing it in a way that I'm getting better as an artist. I'm not just getting more, I guess, accolades and noteworthy my actual talent is because I'm choosing to put the music first.

Here's a spicy question. How have people treated you differently now that you're a first-time GRAMMY nominee?

It's only happened recently, but it is drastically changing. I will say that. There are some people that this whole year, the last two years, it started to seriously change. There are people that went from thinking, I'm just an ambitious girl out there, "Good luck. She's trying her best," to taking me a little bit more seriously when I have these [nominations]; they're not dreams anymore. They're like, "She's making things happen."

Where are you at in your development as a saxophonist? What's the status of you and the horn?

I've got a long way to go, but you spend three years playing Coltrane, you'll definitely expedite the process of: at each gig I'm forced to be at a certain level, minimum.

I think I'm making some progress — and we'll have to battle that out with Terri Lyne, but I think I'm getting better, and that's the most important thing. I wish I could expedite that a little faster, but these albums are just pictures of where I am at the time.

John and Alice were such outstanding models for how to live a creative life.

It's inspiring. I tell you that. For everyone out there that is wondering how to keep pushing forward, how not to give up, every time you get a minor victory, that's another example of going the right way.

My first two albums were projects that were more, let's say, ear friendly. You would think people would gravitate to that more because they understand that music is more contemporary, and they [performed] decently.

But then I come out with this Coltrane project and it does exponentially better, and that's being true to myself, then I do another project that's even deeper into the pool of what it's supposed to be, and then has even more success.

I just think that we got to spend less time trying to find these gimmicks, and people really respond when something is authentic, when it's a live show and they see you pouring your soul out there authentically, that's what gravitates them — not trying to find a way to get over on them.

"Get over on them." What do you mean by that?

I feel like that's what a gimmick is. If I say, I'm going to hold this note for 10 minutes because the audience will really love it. I'm trying to find a way to convince them that this is good, this is cool.

I'm like, Let me dress up in this outfit, because this'll convince them. Rather than just coming out and just being like, This is who I am. This is what it is. And putting it all on the stage, and then they can see authentically, This is who I'm voting for.

Do you see a lot of charlatans out there in the jazz scene, just trying to dazzle with cheap tricks?

I will say that I pray for humanity to be more authentic.

Terri Lyne Carrington Is Making Strides For Inclusion And Mentorship In Jazz. And You Can Hear All Of Them In Her Sound.

A Year In Alternative Jazz: 10 Albums To Understand The New GRAMMYs Category
Linda May Han Oh

Photo: Shervin Lainez

list

A Year In Alternative Jazz: 10 Albums To Understand The New GRAMMYs Category

"Alternative jazz" may not be a bandied-about term in the jazz world, but it's a helpful lens to view the "genre-blending, envelope-pushing hybrid" that defines a new category at the 2024 GRAMMYs. Here are 10 albums from 2023 that rise to this definition.

GRAMMYs/Jan 9, 2024 - 02:47 pm

What, exactly, is "alternative jazz"? After that new category was announced ahead of the 2024 GRAMMYs nominations, inquiring minds wanted to know. The "alternative" descriptor is usually tied to rock, pop or dance — not typically jazz, which gets qualifiers like "out" or "avant-garde."

However, the introduction of the Best Alternative Jazz Album category does shoehorn anything into the lexicon. Rather, it commensurately clarifies and expands the boundaries of this global artform.

According to the Recording Academy, alternative jazz "may be defined as a genre-blending, envelope-pushing hybrid that mixes jazz (improvisation, interaction, harmony, rhythm, arrangements, composition, and style) with other genres… it may also include the contemporary production techniques/instrumentation associated with other genres."

And the 2024 GRAMMY nominees for Best Alternative Jazz Album live up to this dictum: Arooj Aftab, Vijay Iyer and Shahzad Ismaily's Love in Exile; Louis Cole's Quality Over Opinion; Kurt Elling, Charlie Hunter and SuperBlue's SuperBlue: The Iridescent Spree; Cory Henry's Live at the Piano; and Meshell Ndegeocello's The Omnichord Real Book.

Sure, these were the standard bearers of alternative jazz over the past year and change — as far as Recording Academy Membership is concerned. But these are only five albums; they amount to a cross section. With that in mind, read on for 10 additional albums from 2023 that fall under the umbrella of alternative jazz.

Allison Miller - Rivers in Our Veins

The supple and innovative drummer and composer Allison Miller often works in highly cerebral, conceptual spaces. After all, her last suite, Rivers in Our Veins, involves a jazz band, three dancers and video projections.

Therein, Miller chose one of the most universal themes out there: how rivers shape our lives and communities, and how we must act as their stewards. Featuring violinist Jenny Scheinman, trumpeter Jason Palmer, clarinetist Ben Goldberg, keyboardist and accordionist Carmen Staff, and upright bassist Todd SickafooseRivers in Our Veins homes in on the James, Delaware, Potomac, Hudson, and Susquehanna.

And just as these eastern U.S. waterways serve all walks of life, Rivers in Our Veins defies category. And it also blurs two crucial aspects of Miller's life and career.

"I get to marry my environmentalism and my activism with music," she told District Fray. "And it's still growing!

M.E.B. - That You Not Dare To Forget

The Prince of Darkness may have slipped away 32 years ago, but he's felt eerily omnipresent in the evolution of this music ever since.

In M.E.B. or "Miles Electric Band," an ensemble of Davis alumni and disciples underscore his unyielding spirit with That You Not Dare to Forget. The lineup is staggering: bassists Ron Carter, Marcus Miller, and Stanley Clarke; saxophonist Donald Harrison, guitarist John Scofield, a host of others.

How does That You Not Dare To Forget satisfy the definition of alternative jazz? Because like Davis' abstracted masterpieces, like Bitches Brew, On the Corner and the like, the music is amoebic, resistant to pigeonholing.

Indeed, tunes like "Hail to the Real Chief" and "Bitches are Back" function as scratchy funk or psychedelic soul as much as they do the J-word, which Davis hated vociferously.

And above all, they're idiosyncratic to the bone — just as the big guy was, every second of his life and career.

Art Ensemble of Chicago - Sixth Decade - from Paris to Paris

The nuances and multiplicities of the Art Ensemble of Chicago cannot be summed up in a blurb: that's where books like Message to Our Folks and A Power Stronger Than Itself — about the AACM — come in.

But if you want an entryway into this bastion of creative improvisational music — that, unlike The Art Ensemble of Chicago and Associated Ensembles boxed set, isn't 18-plus hours long — Sixth Decade - from Paris to Paris will do in a pinch.

Recorded just a month before the pandemic struck, The Sixth Decade is a captivating looking-glass into this collective as it stands, with fearless co-founder Roscoe Mitchell flanked by younger leading lights, like Nicole Mitchell and Moor Mother.

Potent and urgent, engaging the heart as much as the cerebrum, this music sees the Art Ensemble still charting their course into the outer reaches. Here's to their next six decades.

Theo Croker - By The Way

By The Way may not be an album proper, but it's still an exemplar of alternative jazz.

The five-track EP finds outstanding trumpeter, vocalist, producer, and composer Croker revisiting tunes from across his discography, with UK singer/songwriter Ego Ella May weaving the proceedings with her supple, enveloping vocals.

Compositions like "Slowly" and "If I Could I Would" seem to hang just outside the reaches of jazz; it pulls on strings of neo soul and silky, progressive R&B.

Even the music video for "Slowly" is quietly innovative: in AI's breakthrough year, machine learning made beautifully, cosmically odd visuals for that percolating highlight.

Michael Blake - Dance of the Mystic Bliss

Even a cursory examination of Dance of the Mystic Bliss reveals it to be Pandora's box.

First off: revered tenor and soprano saxophonist Michael Blake's CV runs deep, from his lasting impression in New York's downtown scene to his legacy in John Lurie's Lounge Lizards.

And his new album is steeped in the long and storied history of jazz and strings, as well as Brazilian music and the sting of grief — Blake's mother's 2018 passing looms heavy in tunes like "Merle the Pearl." 

"Sure, for me, it's all about my mom, and there will be some things that were triggered. But when you're listening to it, you're going to have a completely different experience," Blake told LondonJazz in 2023.

"That's what I love about instrumental music," he continued. "That's what's so great about how jazz can transcend to this unbelievable spiritual level." Indeed, Dance of the Mystic Bliss can be communed with, with or without context, going in familiar or cold.

And that tends to be the instrumental music that truly lasts — the kind that gives you a cornucopia of references and sensations, either way.

Dinner Party - Enigmatic Society

Dinner Party's self-titled debut EP, from 2020 — and its attendant remix that year, Dinner Party: Dessert — introduced a mightily enticing supergroup to the world: Kamasi Washington, Robert Glasper, Terrace Martin, and 9th Wonder.

While the magnitude of talent there is unquestionable, the quartet were still finding their footing; when mixing potent Black American genres in a stew, sometimes the strong flavors can cancel each other out.

Enigmatic Society, their debut album, is a relaxed and concise triumph; each man has figured out how he can act as a quadrant for the whole.

And just as guests like Herbie Hancock and Snoop Dogg elevated Dinner Party: Dessert, colleagues like Phoelix and Ant Clemons ride this wave without disturbing its flow.

Wadada Leo Smith & Orange Wave Electric - Fire Illuminations

The octogenarian tumpeter, multi-instrumentalist and composer Wadada Leo Smith is a standard-bearer of the subset of jazz we call "creative music." And by the weighty, teeming sound of Fire Illuminations, it's clear he's not through surprising us.

Therein, Smith debuts his nine-piece Orange Wave Electric ensemble, which features three guitarists (Nels Cline, Brandon Ross, Lamar Smith) and two electric bassists (Bill Laswell and Melvin Gibbs).

In characteristically sagelike fashion, Smith described Fire Illuminations as "a ceremonial space where one's hearts and conscious can embrace for a brief period of unconditioned love where the artist and their music with the active observer becomes united."

And if you zoom in from that beatific view, you get a majestic slab of psychedelic hard rock — with dancing rhythms, guitar fireworks and Smith zigzagging across the canvas like Miles. 

Henry Threadgill - The Other One

Saxophonist, flutist and composer Henry Threadgill composed The Other One for the late, great Milfred Graves, the percussionist with a 360 degree vantage of the pulse of his instrument and how it related to heart, breath and hands.

If that sounds like a mouthful, this is a cerebral, sprawling and multifarious space: The Other One itself consists of one three-movement piece (titled Of Valence) and is part of a larger multimedia work.

To risk oversimplification, though, The Other One is a terrific example of where "jazz" and "classical" melt as helpful descriptors, and flow into each other like molten gold.

If you're skeptical of the limits and constraints of these hegemonic worlds, let Threadgill and his creative-music cohorts throughout history bulldoze them before your ears.

Linda May Han Oh - The Glass Hours

Jazz has an ocean of history with spoken word, but this fusion must be executed judiciously: again, these bold flavors can overwhelm each other. Except when they're in the hands of an artist as keen as Linda May Han Oh.

"I didn't want it to be an album with a lot of spoken word," the Malaysian Australian bassist and composer told LondonJazz, explaining that "Antiquity" is the only track on The Glass Hours to feature a recitation from the great vocalist Sara Serpa. "I just felt it was necessary for that particular piece, to explain a bit of the narrative more."

Elsewhere, Serpa's crystalline, wordless vocals are but one color swirling with the rest: tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, pianist Fabian Almazan, and drummer and electronicist Obed Calvaire.

Themed after "the fragility of time and life; exploring paradoxes seeded within our individual and societal values," The Glass Hours is Oh's most satisfying and well-rounded offering to date, ensconced in an iridescent atmosphere.

Charles Lloyd - Trios: Sacred Thread

You can't get too deep into jazz without bumping into the art of the trio — and the primacy of it. 

At 85, saxophonist and composer Charles Lloyd is currently smoking every younger iteration of himself on the horn; his exploratory fires are undimmed. So, for his latest project, he opted not just to just release a trio album, but a trio of trios.

Trios: Chapel features guitarist Bill Frisell and bassist Thomas Morgan; Trios: Ocean is augmented by guitarist Anthony Wilson and pianist Gerald Clayton; the final, Trios: Sacred Thread, contains guitarists Julian Lage and percussionist Zakir Hussain.

These are wildly different contexts for Lloyd, but they all meet at a meditative nexus. Drink it in as the curtains close on 2023, as you consider where all these virtuosic, forward-thinking musicians will venture to next — "alternative" or not.

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GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016
Kendrick Lamar

Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

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GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016

Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.

GRAMMYs/Oct 13, 2023 - 06:01 pm

Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.

A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.

This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system. 

"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."

Looking for more GRAMMYs news? The 2024 GRAMMY nominations are here!

He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.

"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.

"Hip-hop. Ice Cube. This is for hip-hop," he said. "This is for Snoop Dogg, Doggystyle. This is for Illmatic, this is for Nas. We will live forever. Believe that."

To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood." 

Lamar has since won Best Rap Album two more times, taking home the golden gramophone in 2018 for his blockbuster LP DAMN., and in 2023 for his bold fifth album, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers.

Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes. 

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Samara Joy Won Best New Artist At The 2023 GRAMMYs. What Could It Mean For The Wider Jazz Community?
Samara Joy at the 2023 GRAMMYs

Photo: JC Olivera/WireImage via Getty Images

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Samara Joy Won Best New Artist At The 2023 GRAMMYs. What Could It Mean For The Wider Jazz Community?

The jazz-vocal phenom won big at the 2023 GRAMMYs, including a golden gramophone for Best New Artist. This could have a dramatic effect on an essential and primary yet too-often marginalized genre.

GRAMMYs/Feb 24, 2023 - 03:35 pm

When young jazz luminary Samara Joy accepted a golden gramophone for Best New Artist at the 2023 GRAMMYs, the sequence of expressions that flitted across her visage seemed to cover the entire spectrum of feeling.

The 23-year-old vocalist born Samara Joy McLendon had already won a GRAMMY for Best Jazz Vocal Album at the Premiere Ceremony, for her acclaimed second album and Verve debut, Linger Awhile. This win during the CBS telecast was an entirely different beast. 

The artist who just a few years ago had been a promising undergrad and audibly nervous on the phone now stood onstage at the Crypto.com arena before global megastars from Taylor Swift to Lizzo to Adele — not to mention 12.55 million people at home.

Speaking to GRAMMY.com in its wake, Joy likened the experience to living "in a parallel universe or a movie."

"I'm still in shock and disbelief because I truly didn't think that I would be in the position to receive such an honor," Joy said of the Best New Artist win, where she forged ahead of fellow nominees like Brazilian star Anitta, genre-blending singer/songwriter Omar Apollo, British indie oddballs Wet Leg, and her fellow rising jazzers DOMi & JD Beck.

"I am, however, grateful for the honor, because it reassures me of the fact that I want to continue pursuing music and growth as a musician," Joy continued. "This signifies the beginning of a musical journey that I'm nervous but excited to embark on."

While Joy's  post-show comments focused on her continued development as an artist, the effect of her win quickly became conspicuous. Less than two weeks after the Feb. 5 ceremony, she appeared on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" to perform the recitative standard and Linger Awhile cut "Guess Who I Saw Today."

But it's worth considering what this General Field win means not only for Joy, but the jazz community writ large. Like other genres that appear deeper down the GRAMMY nominees list — from classical to reggae to spoken word — jazz can be treated as a little niche, partitioned off into a corner of the music landscape. Even the most heralded rising talents seldom rocket to celebrity status.

It's only once in a while that jazz completely and utterly perforates the mainstream — like in 2020, when Pixar's Soul was released, featuring consulting work from real-deal musicians from deep in the NYC scene, like Jon Batiste and Terri Lyne Carrington.

Some of these breakthroughs have happened at the GRAMMYs. In 2003, the charismatic and versatile Norah Jones swept the General Field, winning GRAMMYs for Best New Artist, Album Of The Year (for Come Away With Me) and Record Of The Year (for "Don't Know Why"), on top of wins for Best Pop Vocal Album and Best Pop Vocal Performance.

Five years later, Herbie Hancock — one of the most brilliant harmonic thinkers of the 20th century, and 21st — won Album Of The Year for River: The Joni Letters, his tribute to his old collaborator and fellow game-changing genius Joni Mitchell. In that category, the album beat out Kanye West's Graduation and Amy Winehouse's Back to Black.

In 2011, bassist, composer and vocalist Esperanza Spalding won Best New Artist and has been a steady presence at the GRAMMYs ever since, winning right up to the 2022 GRAMMYs (Best Jazz Vocal Album, for SONGWRIGHTS APOTHECARY LAB) and landing a nomination for Best Jazz Instrumental Album for her work with Wayne Shorter, Terri Lyne Carrington, and Leo Genovese on that year's Live at the Detroit Jazz Festival.

Additionally, at the 2022 GRAMMYs, Lady Gaga paid tribute to her collaborator, Tony Bennett, with a performance of "Love for Sale" and "Do I Love You" — both from their final duets album, which won Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album at that year's ceremony. (Previously, their album Cheek to Cheek won in the same category, at the 2015 GRAMMYs.)

On top of all that, other crossover artists with jazz connections, from Jacob Collier to Robert Glasper to Thundercat, have made big splashes at Music’s Biggest Night.

Despite operating under the "jazz" umbrella, all these artists are wildly divergent in almost every possible way. Joy is connected to a jazz-vocal tradition that snakes way back in history, back to when her heroes like Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald and Carmen McRae were dropping jaws.

"I'm overjoyed at Samara's success. But not surprised," Lisa Goich-Andreadis, the Director of Awards and Jazz Genre Manager at the Recording Academy, tells GRAMMY.com. "The first time I heard her voice, I couldn't believe that it was coming out of a 22-year-old. It has the richness and depth of the legends that came before her. She channels something out of another era. Her rise is well-deserved."

What makes Joy fresh is that it's her doing this music, channeling it through her vibrant abilities and irresistibly vivacious spirit. There are a lot of singers doing standards, but there's only one Joy. 

"She f—ing deserves it, man," pianist Geoffrey Keezer, who took home a GRAMMY for Best Instrumental Composition at the same ceremony, tells GRAMMY.com. "She can sing her butt off, and I don't know her personally, but from everything I see, she seems like a really nice person, and really humble and down-to-earth. I think it's fantastic."

Keezer sees Joy's triumph at the 2023 GRAMMYs as a reminder, loud and clear, that jazz is no antiquated or peripheral artform. Rather, it is a vibrant and alive genre very much in the now. 

"The whole umbrella genre is Black American Music, and jazz is the branch of it that has a swing beat," he explains. "So, it's just as current and relevant as anything else. There's all these different branches of the same tree. When the one that swings wins, it's just nice to have that recognized as: Yes, we're still here. This is still part of it, and it's important, and it's where it all came from."

To Goich-Andreadis, Joy's win is significant because it shows that she's being noticed by a wide audience far afield from the jazz community — including that of such esteem as the pre-GRAMMYs MusiCares Persons Of The Year event, which honored Motown titans Berry Gordy and Smokey Robinson.

"She received a rousing standing ovation by the crowd, with honorees Berry Gordy and Smokey Robinson leading the way," Goich-Andreadis remembers of her performance. "It's great to see a representative from this genre touching so many with her talent."

Keezer views Joy's ascent as part of a greater mass of acknowledgement, including that of Spalding, Hancock, and five-time GRAMMY winner Billy Childs — a rising tide that lifts all boats. "I think cumulatively, it opens doors," he says. "It gives the general public, I almost want to say, permission to like this music and think it's cool.

"Audiences are smart, man. People want to hear good musicianship," he continues. "You watch the Olympics to see Simone Biles, or tennis to see Serena Williams, or whatever. You want to see human excellence in real time, in front of your eyes. So, that's what we're seeing with Samara Joy. She's the real deal, and she's doing it right in front of you with no gimmickry and no Auto-Tune."

As to the wider impact of her big wins, Joy can't prognosticate. She only hopes to move the needle.

"I hope that this win means that jazz musicians will be paid a bit more attention and respect for their contributions to music as a whole," Joy says. "It really is a wonderful community that deserves some more shine than it's been given. It's a small step but a step nonetheless."

No matter what happens, perhaps the essence of this victory is simply that the flame is proudly preserved and bore by a worthy ambassador. "Samara is carrying on this very treasured and important musical tradition," Goich-Andreadis says. "Jazz is America's gift to the world."

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