Terri Lyne Carrington’s Latest Recording Makes a Broadly Sourced Statement on U.S.

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Drummer and bandleader Terri Lyne Carrington’s latest recording, Waiting Game, reflects a multiplicity of sonic concepts—r&b, jazz and hip-hop among them.

(Photo: Delphine Diallo)

With her new band’s debut, Waiting Game, drummer, and founder and artistic director of the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice Terri Lyne Carrington now dons another hat as an activist. Alongside keyboardist Aaron Parks, guitarist Matthew Stevens, and multi-instrumentalist Morgan Guerin, the band Social Science was nurtured by a unique collaborative experience. Stevens, who’s known for his work with Esperanza Spalding and Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, said he holds a “belief that often times our ideas can be made stronger and clearer by developing them with other artists.”

That philosophy distinctly shaped Social Science, thanks to already existing compositions by Stevens and other members of the band. “[P]ieces that had previously had difficulty finding their place, became central to the band’s sound and identity once [they were] opened up as vehicles for collaboration,” he said.

Just as Carrington and her bandmates embrace multiple ideas driven by creative and critical thinking, Waiting Game reflects a multiplicity of sonic concepts—r&b, jazz and hip-hop among them. Not only that, but by including people of different generations, and LGBTQIA+ and ethnic identities in its writing, Carrington’s latest recording makes a concerted, broadly-sourced statement on the social dynamics of the United States, as opposed to a display of one-way objection.

The bandleader recently took time to chat about Berklee, meeting the emcee Rapsody and liberation.

The following has been edited for length and clarity.

Given Waiting Game’s grounding in social justice, how have you integrated your personal and performative experiences into Berklee’s Jazz and Gender Justice program?

If you’re making an honest and authentic artistic statement, it should reflect your life somehow. I think a lightbulb went on and something clicked at Berklee a couple of years ago when I was talking to a group of young women about really letting me know how difficult it is for them to study and play jazz. And because it really hadn’t been that difficult for me, I decided to put my energy toward this problem and this issue. And once you do that, I think Pandora’s Box opens and it becomes not just that issue, it becomes other issues and one thing leads to another.

Watching what’s happening in the United States right now and all over the world, you spend more time hanging out, talking, writing, traveling, eating together with people when you’re on the road than you do playing. And through those conversations with Aaron Parks and Matt Stevens, we decided to put [Social Science] together, and that’s kinda how it all happened. And so, my intersection with Berklee is all natural—all coming together at the same point, because apparently that’s the place I am in life right now. It’s a good thing.

How do you inspire students to attain their full musical potential and engage with today’s complex sociopolitical environment?

Some people are just going to focus on music. Some people don’t see the sense of purpose with music, and that’s fine. I think sometimes it takes a long time to just master the craft of playing your instrument. I’m not judging anybody because I was one of those people. But I try to encourage them to––you know, they have to play from their own life experience. But I also try to encourage them to play from the experiences they’re dealing with now.

It’s a very exciting time, because everybody’s feeling something. You have to have the courage to talk about it and dive deeper, sometimes educate yourself more or figure out that connection between or how you bridge your beliefs and your music. Some people write social justice music and the themes might be great, the social content might be great but, the music may not be great. So, I think it’s important to hone your craft as a composer, as a player, as a total artist.

How much of a role did your being a drummer play when it came to shaping Waiting Game’s improvisatory and hip-hop-centric style?

It’s interesting you said it like that, because you don’t really think of hip-hop writing with the level of improv that’s on the record. That’s partially why I did the [second disc] as full improv, because that’s a part of who we are as musicians. Some tracks don’t feel very rhythmic. A track like “Bells” isn’t terribly rhythmic. And then other tracks have time signatures and things that feel hip-hop. Two of my favorite rap songs on the record are in 5/4—“Trapped In The American Dream” and “Purple Mountains.” So, that’s rhythmic in and of itself, because it’s not in your typical 4/4. I think it’s finding a way to blend all of the things that you are, and that’s very difficult to do. But I think the influences that you hear come from all of us.

Rapsody augments the ferocity of “Anthem’s” message with her bold vocal performance. How did you come to include her in the project?

We played the White House together for International Jazz Day about three years ago. [W]e stayed in touch and I just thought, “Let me ask her if she’d be into doing this.” She initially said yes, but I could never pin her down because she was so busy. After the third time [following up], I started thinking about someone else for the track and just before I asked, she hit me back and said, “OK, I’m about to go lay it down tonight and do this!” So, it was just good luck and good fortune that it worked out.

[O]ne thing I know in my life: Things have always worked out the way they should and the way the universe supports them.

Understanding the unique responsibility built into Waiting Game’s narrative intentions, how did you navigate the overlap as bandleader and social commentator?

Anybody that’s conscious of injustices in the world has to look at things like who has privilege and who doesn’t. What group of people are being marginalized the most? I think what has to happen is everybody needs to look through the lens of the most marginalized. That’s why I’ve quoted the [Black Youth Project] 100, because “Nobody’s liberated until everybody is,” and I think that’s something everybody in [Social Science] understands. DB




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December 2019
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