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Q&A with Terri Lyne Carrington

Exclusive Interview by Karen Beishuizen
Photo credits: Michael Goldman

Terri Lyne Carrington won three Grammy Awards, toured with greats like Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz and Herbie Hancock and is considered one of the best drummers in the world. She has a new album out called “New Standards Vol. 1” and a new book with the title “New Standards: 101 lead sheets by women composers”. Go check it out!

KB: Did you want to be a jazz drummer ever since you were a kid? How old were you when you started?

I was seven years old when I started and basically, it’s the only thing I’ve ever known, so the only thing I ever really wanted to do. But I don’t feel like I chose it, it just feels like it’s been there with me forever, so maybe it chose me. Also, my grandfather was a drummer and passed away right before I was born so somehow, I’m continuing his legacy.

KB: I read that you were very young when you gave your first performance at the Wichita Jazz Festival? How old were you and what do you remember of that day?

I don’t remember a lot from that time period. It was so long ago. But I know what happened factually and I remember some of the conversations. I remember my father telling me, “When Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis plays, make sure you kick him in the ass.” And I remember Dianne Reeves taking me aside and basically telling me to not change – and she and I are friends still to this day – 47 years later.

KB: You played with the great late Dizzy Gillespie and Stan Getz: What kind of people were they and how was it working with them?

I learned a lot from all the masters that I played with. I only played with Dizzy a few times, but I learned about making people respect you from him. Some young students came in the dressing room and started addressing him as Dizzy and he got very angry and told them to call him Mr. Gillespie. I understood him being upset because they had not earned the right to call him that, as they were not on a first name basis yet. Stan Getz was basically a good guy, especially after he stopped drinking. He was very fair with me and paid me very well. I appreciated that. He was very supportive and always wanted to surround himself with progressive musicians. He was a fine example of doing that for me. I too want to surround myself with progressive musicians. It brings out the best in me.

KB: You were the house drummer for The Arsenio Hall Show and the drummer on Quincy Jones’ late-night TV show VIBE: How did you get this job and how was it working on a TV set?

I absolutely loved playing in-house bands for those shows. I got to play with so many incredible musicians and artists, so it gave me a lot of new experiences. I know shows I played with James Brown, Aaliyah, Rick James, Whitney Houston, Little Richard, Destiny’s Child, New Kids on the Block, and the list goes on. It was also just good, regular, fun. I auditioned for the Arsenio Hall show. I’ve only had four auditions in my life and got two of them: Arsenio and Wayne Shorter. The two I did not get were Steps Ahead and Sting. But Arsenio wanted some women in the band and that worked in my favour. For the vibe show Greg Phillingaines called me for that, as he was the Musical Director. I guess it did not hurt that I already had a late-night experience.

KB: Between 1997 and 2007 you toured with Herbie Hancock: What kind of person is he and what did you learn from him?

Herbie is a fine person. I learned many things from him. One was to be determined and focused. He rarely took no for an answer and always found a way to work something out. That lesson has been quite useful. He also helped me understand how to play life and not music. That is something that you continuously work on Dash making the connection so there is no separation between you and your instrument. It’s important to be mission oriented and when Herbie plays, and Wayne Shorter to for that matter, they are planning to save the world, to heal the world, to make the world better than how they found it. That is probably my greatest lesson.

KB: You worked with so many greats: Are there people you have not worked with, but you would love to and why?

I enjoy playing with all kinds of new people and also in other styles. I’ve always liked old-school English Rock’n’roll and would love to have an opportunity to play with one of those bands one day. But I’m just open to play with anyone that has something to say. As long as it’s good.

KB: Who are your all-time favorite drummers and why?

Roy Haynes and Jack Dejohnette: Roy because he is the father of modern jazz drumming. He is so slick, and so cool, but everything that he plays feels ultra-modern. I am always hearing right in my head when I play and want to let more and more of his influence out, but of course that is not easy. Here for me is tops. Jack Dejohnnette is my biggest mentor. His two biggest influences are Roy Haynes and Elvin Jones. Jack is super musical and his style just spoke to me still during my formative years, so he has really influenced me a great deal. His plane is organic, and he doesn’t repeat licks, and that’s one of the things I love about his playing. He serves the music.

KB: You have a new album out: New Standards Vol.1 … Tell me more about it.

The new album is 11 songs from a book I just put out as well. The book is called New Standards: 101 lead sheets by women composers. I’m calling it volume one because I hope that eventually all the songs are recorded, and I hope to enlist other band leaders to record music from the book. It has varying styles within jazz to show the variety in the book. It spans about 100 years. The levels vary as well. There is something for a movie player and something for the most accomplished player as well.

Check out Terri Lyne’s website: HERE
Find her on Twitter: HERE

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