UChicago Presents: You started playing the drums when you were pretty young, and you come from a family of jazz musicians. Do you remember what drew you to the instrument?
Terri Lyne Carrington: My dad periodically set up his father’s drums around the house and sometimes played them for fun—my grandfather actually passed away six months before I was born, while he was playing a set at a club. So one day, when I was seven, I asked to play them. My father saw that I had good time, and thought I might have talent, so he taught me what he knew, then took me to some beginning teachers. It was basically just being exposed to it at such a young age.
UCP: Did you play any instruments before that?
TLC: A little bit of saxophone, but I wasn’t very good—I didn’t develop on that. I started when I was about five or six years old, and when I lost my first set of teeth, I couldn’t play it anymore. That’s when I switched to drums.
UCP: Is there a particular collaboration you can think of that ended up being especially formative for you, early on?
TLC: All of them, for the most part. My first big touring gig was with Clark Terry—that was very important. He’d been part of Duke Ellington’s orchestra and was a jazz star in his own right. He taught me a lot; I was 18 when I went on the road with him. Then, at 21, I started playing with Wayne Shorter. That became one of my breakthrough gigs, because he became a musical and spiritual mentor. Plus, it led me to so many other things, including playing with Herbie Hancock. I think that was a turning point for me.
UCP: In 2011, you released your Mosaic Project, which featured an all-female band, as well as a sequel in 2015. What led to that, and what inspired you to return to it four years later?
TLC: I did a show in Israel with Esperanza Spalding, Geri Allen, and Tineke Postma, and that’s when I realized, “Oh, wow, I called all women”—it was the first time I ever did that. I wanted to continue the nice vibe we had during that gig; plus, I wanted to celebrate all the women I had worked with, and that it wasn’t just a boys’ club anymore.
That’s why I did the first Mosaic Project, and there were 21 women that were part of that project. But there were some that I never got to, or that I called and it just didn’t work out. So I said there’d be a Part Two that I’d get to someday.
Between those, I did my Money Jungle project, and by the time I did Part Two, Love and Soul, it leaned a little more R&B. It celebrated a lot of male composers and songwriters, and different people who were important to me—George Duke, and different ones. So that was the point of departure [from Part One].
UCP: You mentioned Money Jungle: Provocative in Blue, which is also the project you’re bringing to the Logan Center. Why take on such a legendary project, and at that point in your career?
TLC: It was one of those mystical things; I had no reason that makes any real sense. I just felt drawn to the CD, and I didn’t discover it until about fifteen years ago. It’s not as though it was the strongest playing of those particular musicians that I’ve ever heard, but it was something about the combination of them—the energy they created, that tension and beauty, was something special. It’s a bit of a mystery to me, and the more I listened and dug into the compositions by Duke Ellington, the more I wanted to arrange some of them.
UCP: You’ve emphasized that you’ll always define yourself as a musician first, not necessarily a female drummer/musician. But you mentioned in a panel earlier this year that you felt the glass ceiling more pointedly as a producer and a music director. Why is that?
TLC: I’m not sure why. It’s just another role that women haven’t been dominating—there’s not a lot of women producers and MDs. It seems to be the one area that has felt not quite as welcoming, but I don’t know if it’s even on purpose. Jobs haven’t really come to me in the way I thought they might, based on my accomplishments in that area. People sometimes still feel like they expect guys to be in control of the band. But things happen on their own time. The biggest thing is, the more I do, the more I experience I get and want to do it even more.
UCP: Anything you’d like to share about upcoming projects?
TLC: Well, I probably don’t want to share too much, because they’re not formulated yet, but I’m working on a couple of different things. I’m working on a project with some of the younger, hot musicians in New York in new jazz, which I really like—jazz that’s infused with whatever they like, be it indie rock or classical music or hip-hop. That whole frontier is very exciting to me.
I’m trying to start on a project with one of the singers from the Mosaic Project—that’ll be a little more jazz, R&B. There’s also a project I’m looking to produce, but it’s not finalized yet, so I shouldn’t talk about it!
The one thing I can talk about is MD work. I’m doing a big show at the Hollywood Bowl in September, so I’m working on that music now. It’s a tribute to Dinah Washington, Lena Horne, and Eartha Kitt, and the vocalists are Patti Austin, Judith Hill, Dee Dee Bridgewater, and Ledisi. We really hope to do more shows with this tribute, because the singers can be a revolving door, somewhat.
UCP: Jazz runs in the family: as we discussed, your grandfather played the drums, and your father is a saxophonist. You yourself have a 10 year old son now. Has he shown any interest in carrying on the family tradition?
TLC: No, not as of yet! [Laughs] Sometimes people get into that stuff a little bit later. It’s cool if he does, but if he doesn’t, that’s okay, too. These days, there are so many possibilities in life, and although art’s an important part of it, there are so many other things. It’s all out there for him, so as long as he finds his passion, I’m okay with whatever that is.