A conversation about jazz music with multi-Grammy Award winning band leader, composer and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington offers a therapeutic outlook on why the voices, artistry and work of women, trans and non-binary people in jazz have been silenced, siphoned off or sidelined throughout history.
“The work of women artists has long been put on a separate track, which ghettoizes it,” says Carrington. “We’re asking everyone to think about these voices, the different sound aesthetics in the music, and how jazz will evolve and reach higher potential when we have equity with other creators. We hope we (eventually) won’t have to have the conversation at all. I’d be the happiest person in the world if we could dissolve the institute I created at Berklee, but we’re not there yet.”
Carrington is the founder and artistic director of Boston-based Berklee Institute for Jazz and Gender Justice. She will present selections from her recently published compilation of New Standards.
“Playing more experimental music with musicians who hear things differently because they’re from a different generation, or were born into an experimental world of free, composed and improvisational jazz, has been inspiring,” says Carrington. “The older I get, the more I want to play with less structure.”
On the program are works composed by Gretchen Parlato, Carla Bley, Lil Hardin Armstrong, Cassandra Wilson, Jamie Branch, Anat Cohen and others. Drawn from the compendium of works included in her book and seminal songbook collection—New Standards: 101 Lead Sheets By Women Composers, 11 of which are on her latest album, new STANDARDS Vol. 1—the concert serves as an entry point promising more good things to come from the vast, ever-expanding project.
“[Two Hearts] just always spoke to me. I was privileged to have had [Bley’s] blessing with the lyrics I wrote,” says Carrington. “I always heard that song as a love story over generations. A song from an iconic composer like Carla Bley, who was alive when I put the book out, along with one by Armstrong and songs from Berklee graduates meant many generations are represented. The older I get, the more I love melodic things. The song made me think of something activist Angela Davis said, that music allows us to feel things we’re not able to put into words. It’s mystical, magical, a place there are no words for.”
The live recording of American jazz pianist Marilyn Crispell’s “Rounds” she put on the album was a more cerebral, deliberate, but still an instinctive choice. “It had an energy that was special. The improvisation around the melody that’s the only information that you have—coming from a very structured environment as a kid and in my career—has been great.”
“Continental Cliff” by Patricia Perez is a song you can hear in different ways. The short melody involves repetition, something she points out African music has, and connects to on a fundamental, foundational level. “Repetition and what can be conveyed, how you stretch the boundaries, those are things I’m thinking about.”
Carrington says if a speculative conversation one year from today could leap off of gender equity and inclusive issues to fresh, equally compelling topics, it would revolve around where jazz is headed and the possibility of a cultural renaissance.
“We look to the current generation and what they’re learning, hearing, feeling. What I’ve been doing is trying to propagate what I emphasize is not new jazz, but alternative jazz. I was an architect of a recent, new Grammy award for Best Alternative Jazz because we shouldn’t have in the same award category stylistic comparisons of it with jazz that was created in the first 15 years of the art form,” she says. “Even jazz created 20 years ago should not be put in the same bucket. Alternative jazz is a hybrid of what’s been happening over decades.”
An interdisciplinary approach, she believes, that could mirror the Harlem Renaissance is something she fantasizes. Actualized today, it would mean a rapid, sweeping transition to more collaborative projects in which artists from the worlds of theater, movement and visual arts convene and are joined by scholars, social and environmental activists, and scientists who collectively inspire each other to stride into unexplored territories.
Carrington says that her male colleagues say they’ve “never worked a day in their lives,” because it’s just so pleasurable and rewarding to be jazz composers, musicians and producers. Those words rarely if ever escape the lips of women.
“Nowadays because of Me Too and people being called out for poor behavior, the landscape is changing,” she says. “What motivates and shapes me is the lack of creative output of women artists. The lack of opportunity, welcoming atmosphere and safety has a lot to do with that.”
Carrington paraphrases Maya Angelou, who says many women in the social justice movement have paved the way for the current generation. Similarly, young and established musicians rejecting practices in jazz culture that used to be accepted, she suggests, can stand on the shoulders of their foremothers. “A lot of young men are rejecting it too. They don’t want to be a part of this hyper-masculine mentality. That’s a beautiful thing and we’ll have something new when we, women, can put our own values on music, not replicate sounds we’ve heard, and have space in the room to be our authentic selves.”
What might jazz sound like if created and heard in a culture that’s not patriarchal?
“We don’t know,” Carrington replies, “because it hasn’t happened yet. The only thing I can say is listen to the music. There’s nothing wrong with how it’s composed or how it’s played. It’s a different approach we’re moving toward, hopefully.”
327 Lasuen St, Stanford
Jan. 25, 7:30pm