Terri Lyne Carrington on her mission to correct jazz history: “Women aren’t called geniuses enough” | Jazz


IImagine for a moment that you’re a jazz musician looking for a standard to master – one of those timeless songs widely accepted as the backbone of the genre. You leaf The real book for inspiration – the best-selling jazz songbook of all time, with its distinctive peach-colored cover. There’s music from Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, the late Chick Corea – untold big names. But browsing its 400 songs, something is wrong: only one of these jazz standards is written by a woman.

Grammy-winning drummer Terri Lyne Carrington knew that was not all. The Real Book contains Ann Ronell’s Willow Weep for Me and some songs attributed to Billie Holiday, she says, but it overlooks the countless women who made jazz history. Carrington is also a professor at Berklee College of Music, where the first Real Book was conceived in the 1970s. Her upcoming project, New Standards, is a fix: a sheet music book of jazz compositions written entirely by women. In addition, she has selected 11 to record a studio album, joined by guests including Ravi Coltrane (son of John and Alice), singer and flautist Melanie Charles and avant-garde trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusirie (and it will be completed through a multimedia exhibition at Detroit Carr Center). “geniusesCarrington points out. “Women aren’t called that enough.”

A drummer for over 40 years, Carrington has worked with everyone from Hancock to Wayne Shorter, Stan Getz, Teena Marie and Ela Minus. New Standards also highlights his talent as a curator, bringing together 101 composers from all continents and different eras. There are American virtuosos (harpists Dorothy Ashby and Alice Coltrane, trombonist Melba Liston, avant-garde pianist Carla Bley – whose former husband, Paul, was in the original book); two contemporary Latin Americans, Brazilian jazz pianist Eliane Elias and Chilean saxophonist Patricia Zárate Pérez; and “unknowns” like Sara Cassey, a pianist from Detroit whose compositions have been played by big male names such as Thelonious Monk and Gene Krupa while she remained behind the scenes.

The new generation too: among them, New York harpist Brandee Younger, London saxophonist Nubya Garcia and Jaimie Branch, a dynamic player from Chicago’s progressive label International Anthem who died in August at the age of 39. the trumpet,” Carrington says of Branch. “And her personality comes through in her graphic scores – being a renegade, making people think. It’s a huge loss. »

Like Branch, New Standards composers eschewed conventional jazz structures and pushed the form forward. While traditionally it is men who are portrayed as innovators, these women are full-fledged mavericks. Zooming in from her home in Boston, Carrington shows off her T-shirt, which bears the slogan of one of her gender balance initiatives: Jazz Without Patriarchy. “When you think in those fair terms, women would be visionaries just like men.”

Only two people declined to be involved, she said, because “they don’t think women should be separated.” But, Carrington reasons, “there’s nothing wrong with celebrating women without suggesting that women should be siled.”

Terri Lyne Carrington performs with Cassandra Wilson’s band at Central Park SummerStage, New York. Photography: Jack Vartoogian/Getty Images

Carrington grew up knowing that “there were no other little girls like me”. A child prodigy born into a family of drummers, she was 10 when flugelhorn player Clark Terry took her to the Wichita Jazz Festival as a special guest, and 11 when she was offered a scholarship for Berklee – after none other than Ella Fitzgerald had insisted that the school president watch the young drummer play.

Earlier in her 40-year career, Carrington refused to play in all-female rosters. That changed with her sixth album, 2011’s The Mosaic Project, where she assembled a heavyweight band including Esperanza Spalding, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Nona Hendryx and Sheila E. conductor. “The comments I received were: I was too ambitious, I was never going to make a good leader. Although we have, of course, Art Blakey, Max Roach, Elvin Jones…”

At that time, many of the major jazz labels “didn’t sign a lot of female instrumentalists, just a few pianists,” she says. “There was no effort [to change that]. When I think back, it was the same story: women sing jazz and men play it. She eventually signed The Mosaic Project with the independent Concord Jazz: it went on to win a Grammy.

New norms come after the gender disparity has become more stark. There are various alarming statistics on the relative lack of women in jazz, especially as instrumentalists: a 2019 UK study found that only 19% of jazz artist rosters were women, while 26% were solo artists, compared to 8% in bands. In the USA, NPR concluded that from 2017 to 2019the majority of recordings ranked in their annual Jazz Critics’ Poll “featured no female musicians among their core staff”.

But since the #MeToo movement, says Carrington, “there has certainly been a shift in consciousness” — including his own — and various measures to address the imbalance. “We are at a stage in society where women say: no more.”

Nubya Garcia
Saxophonist Nubya Garcia, one of the musicians recruited by Carrington for the New Standards project. Photography: Robin Little/Redferns

Berklee had its own account in 2017 when a exposed alleged a prolonged history of sexual misconduct at school. Soon after, Carrington established the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice. “I started listening to a lot of young women,” she says, “and I was like, ‘Wow, I’m part of the problem if I’m not trying to be part of the solution.’ The program offers opportunities. for women and non-binary musicians “to learn music without the added burdens that can come with being in a male-dominated space.”

In jazz, this space means that as a woman, “you have to fit in in some way; you can’t be too feminine or too masculine,” says Carrington, who is exhausting to navigate before she even picks up her instrument. And a few students told Carrington that they found they were getting tough “because they didn’t want to be hit on.”

Then there are just old sexist generalizations to deal with. In 2017, American musician Robert Glasper claimed that women “don’t really like the solo” in jazz and compared getting into the groove – which women apparently much prefer – to finding a “musical clitoris”. He has since apologized for his remarks. Carrington stepped in. “I called him to talk to him about it,” she said, adding that he had taken her arguments into account.

“I don’t even blame these guys for the language they use and their point of view because they’ve been on for so long,” she continues. “I blame the system and structures beyond individuals. If you’ve been told your whole life that this is reality, this is what is acceptable behavior, then we just have to educate each other. I don’t even get mad anymore. I just shake my head and say, OK, there’s still work to do.

Carrington certainly has his work cut out for him. She points to affirmative action, hiring outside her social circle, and giving school-aged girls instruments instead of microphones as ways to help break down gender bias. Alongside New Standards, she is also launching Next Jazz Legacy, a major three-year mentorship program for women and non-binary musicians with the goal of making American jazz more inclusive. “Unknown territory can be uncomfortable,” she concludes, “but things have changed and are changing.”

New Standards Vol 1 is out September 16 on Candid Records.

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