Terri Lyne Carrington is a jazz drummer, educator and author who grounds her projects in feminism, spiritual liberation and the movement to abolish prisons and police.
Her latest album New Standards – Volume 1 received the 2023 Grammy for Best Instrumental Jazz Album and is a companion to Carrington’s book New Standards: 101 Lead Sheets by Women Composers (Hal Leonard – 2022). These projects were inspired by her realization that the go-to book for jazz musicians – the Real Book – contained very few songs by women.“We’re part of a new canon in jazz,”she says. “We’re celebrating women composers.”
Carrington will be performing at the Monterey Jazz Festival Sunday at 1:50pm with her band New Standards. Later Sunday she’ll be at the Pacific Jazz Café in a panel discussion with Angela Davis and Gina Dent. Carrington works closely with Davis and Dent as curator for the Music for Abolition Project of the UCSC Institute for the Arts and Sciences (IAS). The acclaimed drummer is also founder and Artistic Director of the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice.
JM: Tell me how the book and album – New Standards Vol. 1 – came together.
Terri Lyne Carrington: I noticed there were very few jazz compositions available by women. I created this book to expand that and I decided to record 11 songs. One of my favorite tracks is “Throw it Away.” I arranged that to have an African flavor. The lyrics are from Abbey Lincoln who was a master storyteller and songwriter.
JM: I really enjoy your drumming.
Terri Lyne Carrington: I’ve never really been in the habit of practicing! (laugh) I’m laughing because this is the first year I won Drummer of the Year for the Downbeat Critics Poll and I feel maybe this album has something to do with it. But it’s ironic because my technique is not like it was 20 years ago, but that’s okay!
MUSIC FOR ABOLITION
JM: The website for the IAS says the Music for Abolition Project is, “The soundtrack for – and heartbeat to – the shared struggle for a future in which prisons, policing and racial violence are things of the past.” Tell me about the panel discussion at the Monterey Jazz Festival with Angela Davis and Gina Dent.
Terri Lyne Carrington: The discussion is based on the “Music for Abolition” videos we created during the pandemic that were part of a symposium that UCSC did called Visualizing Abolition headed by Rachel Nelson and Gina Dent. I curated all these videos and there’s a lot of amazing artists involved; Cécile McLorin Salvant,Dianne Reeves, Orrin Evans, Maimouna Yousef aka “Mumu Fresh,” Queen Cora Coleman and others.
We’ll show parts of the videos and talk about why abolition is important.
SHARE THE VISION
JM: After George Floyd was killed by police in 2020, many people called out to defund or abolish the police. That movement has dissipated. What’s important about visualizing the end of police and prisons?
Terri Lyne Carrington: It’s important to envision it because it will never happen if it’s not envisioned. And lots of people are invested in having us not share that vision. There’s the for-profit aspect of prison systems. Also, when we look at the reasons that crime happens we see that if everyone had what they needed, then we’d be shocked at how much crime doesn’t happen. If we take mental illness seriously, it’s the same. We need equity.
JM: What role does spirituality play in your music and activism?
Terri Lyne Carrington: It’s all connected. If you believe you’re part of one human family then there’s some kind of spiritual connection. That’s the same belief that makes you fight for your brother or sister. This disconnection between church and state has always been something that doesn’t make sense to me. Once I decided to put my beliefs first and let the art support that, I’ve been moving in the direction of accomplishing a mission I believe I was put here to do. I’m a practicing Buddhist. I just want to make my contribution to the world and make it meaningful.
Listen to this interview with Terri Lyne Carrington at noon on Thursday on “Transformation Highway” with John Malkin on KZSC 88.1 FM / kzsc.org.
For more about the Institute for Arts and Sciences read the March 7, 2023 story in Good Times by Christina Waters.