Interview with Terri Lyne Carrington
Terri Lyne Carrington is a GRAMMY award-winning drummer, educator and producer and was the first woman to win the Grammy for Best Jazz Instrumental Album. She has worked with an extensive and highly impressive catalogue of outstanding artists – Wayne Shorter, Al Jarreau, Stan Getz, Esperanza Spalding, Chaka Khan, to name a few – and has won three Grammys in total so far. I caught up with her to talk to her about life as a musician in today’s industry and to ask if she had any advice and guidance for Higher National Music students.
FR: You were the first female artist to win a GRAMMY for Best Jazz Instrumental Album and previous winners in this category include Count Basie, Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock, among others. I imagine you were immensely proud of this, but also maybe frustrated that this was the first time a woman had won?
TLC: Absolutely. You just nailed it. When I was nominated, I didn’t realise I was the first until later and yes, I was proud to be that person, but I couldn’t believe that not that many women are even nominated, let alone win – especially when I consider how many great records have been made. And even looking at other categories in Jazz, there’s a lot of nominations, like vocal, but not so many wins for women.
FR: Does this take some of the joy of winning away from you – are you able to enjoy it?
TLC: Well, yes, I am able to enjoy it, but this was before this moment of consciousness that’s happening right now. People thought, sincerely, that the record was deserving and it wasn’t like ‘no women has won, so we have to change that, make sure a woman wins’. So, on one hand, I feel good as a woman, that the record was good and competitive – and I won – but on the other hand, there are all these other issues that we need to look at and address to bring more equity into our industry.
FR: You said in a previous interview that “I feel it is our job as artists, to carry out the responsibility of reporting, commenting and even educating, about what is going on in the societies we are a part of – regarding humanity, politics and anything else that affects our freedom or life condition. When we choose to be passive, we’re choosing an easier route, but complacency has its consequences.” Using art as a social weapon, wow, I love that. How do you feel you have achieved that or how are you trying to achieve that in your own work?
TLC: I think about an awareness of how many great female musicians there are and have been – and most of them are not new. With ‘The Mosaic Project’ I just kind of did it as a statement to celebrate these great women even though I have never been a fan of all female situations but I did that record and it was successful and I toured with it – and I always integrate it – because I believe if art reflects life, then we have to integrate it in that way. So, I think without trying to, without directly saying that I am trying to make a political statement, that project did make a social statement, in a way. But I wasn’t really setting out to do that.
FR: And what would you hope to see today’s musicians do to help change and develop the culture?
TLC: It’s exposure. I have a lot of students at Berklee, and when they come to a class, these are the things we talk about. We talk about what is happening in society, how we are part of it and how we are part of this system and we have a choice. I think the more you are aware of these things, the more you put it in your work. Bringing an awareness to young people is important – without preaching.
FR: You wrote an amazing article ‘Sexism In Jazz: Being Agents Of Change’ and your experience in the industry has clearly not stopped you being motivated or inspired to succeed. Many people may have given up – what was it that gave you the strength?
TLC: Actually, I have come to realise, more recently, that it’s tiring. You have to keep grinning when people are around and that’s ok because people have done that for me, but it’s really tiring. Everyone is at a heightened awareness and if I talk to someone who is not, I really feel obligated to explain to them why all of this is so important. But sometimes, you just want them to educate themselves. It’s not my job to educate some people, you know? But then on the other hand, I am passionate about the situation, and you want to, without being judgmental, show them where their faults are – quite often people say that they just haven’t thought about it – and at this point, if you haven’t thought about it, then you are part of the problem, even if you mean well. But this problem with gender equity, I don’t see this changing completely until men really realise they have to mentor women to bring balance and equality. These are the conversations I have.
FR: For the drummers reading this, what is your practice routine?
TLC: Basically, I warm up with rudiments. If I have a show that requires certain things, then I will practise those.
FR: Working as a musician, what are your daily challenges?
TLC: Staying healthy and not getting sick! Taking care of myself while I am on the road. It’s hard because you think you are invincible, but you’re not. But also knowing how the industry is evolving and changing. Creativity is creativity, but you have to figure out how to get your art to where you want to get it to – your audience. These are all challenges.
FR: You have a hectic schedule and have to be the best you can be – how do you look after your health and well being – how do you stay focused?
TLC: I have to take half an hour, on my own, before each show, to just gather and focus my thoughts. I practise Buddhism and I like to take walks. I try to eat healthy too!
FR: What advice do you have for our students?
TLC: You must remember to have fun. Bring joy to what you are doing. If you bring joy to it then you will experience joy and that’s what people connect to. Courage. Passion. Putting those things into your music so that is what people experience. If people see you at your best game, it inspires them be at their best game. And all of the things I mentioned earlier. Be in the moment.
FR: Any different advice for female musicians?
TLC: They need to take ownership of their music. They deserve to be there as much as anyone else. It’s their music too. We are constantly trying to fit ourselves into it, but we need to not look at it that way. We are already part of it and deserve to be there. Some people feel it’s a boys club and try to fit into the boys club. I think one of the keys to my success is I didn’t look at it that way. I didn’t try to fit in. I felt like I was just as important.
FR: Thank you so much for talking to me!
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