Drummer Terri Lyne Carrington is a tremendous link to the history of jazz. Her grandfather played the traps behind Fats Waller and Chu Berry. Her father, Sonny, was the president of the Boston Jazz Society. She was immersed in the sounds from birth and appears to have paid a lot of attention because for over thirty years she has been at the forefront of modern jazz drumming. Recently, she teamed up with pianist Geri Allen and bassist Esperanza Spalding (Best New Artist Grammy Winner, enemy to all Beliebers) to form the all-star trio ACS.
Carrington is a good mentor for Spalding because she is well familiar with the pressures the jazz world can place on a young, talented woman's shoulders. Carrington was only 11 years old when she nabbed a full scholarship to Boston's Berklee School of Music after playing with legendary pianist Oscar Peterson. She attended the college while balancing her adolescence, committing full-time after graduating from high school. She returned to Berklee in 2003, not quite forty, to receive an honorary doctorate. Spalding was a student at the time, already garnering acclaim for her effortless command of the upright bass, having finished high school at the age of 16.
Bop drummer Max Roach was a major supporter of Carrington when she was getting started. "He was one of my earlier influences. He was a mentor too of sorts. He tried to get me a record deal when I was a kid with Blue Note Records. I was really thrilled and flattered." For her debut as a leader with Polygram records at the age of 24, she called in a few favors, employing jazz giants like Wayne Shorter, John Scofield, Carlos Santana and Grover Washington Jr to fulfill her dreams but the relationship with big-money record labels was not meant to be. A Grammy nomination boosted Carrington's sales but also muddled her self-expression. A follow-up album was recorded but ended up shelved as Polygram tried to turn her into an R&B star. She didn't return to the recording studio as a bandleader for more than a dozen years.
Allen and Carrington go back to the '80s when they both appeared on Shorter's 1988 releaseJoy Ryder
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. It was Shorter's last record for nearly 10 years but all three artists have been regularly crossing paths lately including sharing the stage at the Hollywood Bowl this summer as part of a yearlong celebration of Shorter's 80th birthday (After all these parties, he must be looking forward to the far less heralded 81.). "We're playing a lot of Wayne Shorter music on this tour," says Carrington calling before leading her band in Las Vegas. "We've been doing some triple bills with him to help celebrate his birthday. In fact, a majority of our set is Wayne Shorter pieces now."
Carrington moved to Los Angeles to become a part of Arsenio Hall's house band in the late '80s and spent the '90s touring in various bands and finding success with vocalist Dianne Reeves. Carrington finally began releasing records under her own name in the 00s, releasing a string of intriguing albums in the last few years including the Grammy-winning Mosaic Project and an homage to the immortal collaboration between Roach, Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus, Money Jungle from 1963.
Carrington is having the time of her life with performing with this trio. The three of them are an undeniable supergroup, combining some of the most versatile voices in jazz. Allen is a swinging storyteller, Spalding provides her nimble support and Carrington is the propulsive and funky rhythm machine driving trio. "We're having so much fun," she says with a laugh. "It should be illegal."