Sometimes the message of a poem is, “life is not poetry.” Sometimes, it takes a poem or at least a poet to deliver the straight, un-poetical goods.
Back in 1967, when I was just settling into living in New York City, settling into making a career as a broadcast journalist, I picked up a book by a poet named A. B. Spellman that is one of the all-time classics of jazz journalism: Four Lives in the Bebop Business.
Up to that time, as an apprentice jazz fan, I was focused on the music and the artists and the creative process, which – having lived in the suburbs and moved to the city – I had often witnessed before my very ears.
That Spellman also partook of a romantic attachment to jazz at its most daring and original was evident in the four lives he chose to portray. Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor were – at the time – perhaps the two most celebrated revolutionaries in jazz, while Herbie Nichols was a pianist whose concept was so complete and completely idiosyncratic that other musicians revered him and the industry ignored him. Which meant almost no jazz listeners got to hear him.
Jackie McLean was a different sort of genius: not revolutionary, just personal. Falsely accused by influential critics of being just an imitator of Charlie Parker, because he did play in Parker’s language, Jackie had a vocabulary and tone of his own, a voice as immediately recognizable as Bird’s.
Of the four players in the Spellman book, all of whom knew and could relate to bebop, McLean was the only one who played it regularly – bebop or its more ecumenical successor hard bop. Of the four, he was the one most likely to be working. Because all these musicians, all their creativity, the greater part of their lives, were part of “the Bebop Business.” So was the book, Spellman told me in a too-brief conversation decades after I’d read the book. You could tell, he said, “because nobody got rich.” That ironic joke remains a truism 55 years after Four Lives in the Bebop Business was published, although so much else about the jazz life has changed.
Two aspects of the world of jazz that are in the process of changing for the better are the roles and powers of women. A driving force for change in the world of jazz and the world outside it is our guest today, the multiple-Grammy Award-winning drummer, bandleader, composer/arranger/producer of jazz music Terri Lyne Carrington.
Terri Lyne Carrington is a Grammy-winning drummer, percussionist, composer, bandleader, and producer. Her signature, and often-emulated funky drumming style has been applied to many different settings, from jazz and soul to rock, blues, and crossover classical music. She is among the first significant female drummers in jazz and has worked extensively with Clark Terry, Cassandra Wilson, Dianne Reeves, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, and many others. After beginning her recording career with bassist Rufus Reid‘s trio, she released Real Life Story, her Grammy-nominated leader debut in 1989. She spent the next 12 years as one of jazz’s most in-demand drummers. After assuming the leader mantle again for 2002’s acclaimed Jazz Is a Spirit, she began working in that capacity regularly, while continuing her work as a session and touring musician. In 2007, Carrington was appointed professor at her alma mater, Berklee College of Music. In 2011, she issued the Grammy-winning The Mosaic Project that straddled jazz and R&B with an all-star band of female players and singers who included Wilson, Reeves, Dee Dee Bridgewater, and Gretchen Parlato. The following year she won a Grammy for Best Jazz Instrumental Album for Money Jungle: Provocative in Blue, on which she led an eight-piece ensemble. In 2015, she issued Mosiac Project: Love and Soul, and four years later led a new band called Social Science, along with a dozen guests, on the politically themed The Waiting Game.
Terri Lyne Carrington (born August 4, 1965) is an American jazz drummer, composer, producer, and educator. She has played with Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz, Clark Terry, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Joe Sample, Al Jarreau, Yellowjackets, and many others. She toured with each of Hancock’s musical configurations (from electric to acoustic) between 1997 and 2007.
In 2007 she was appointed professor at her alma mater, Berklee College of Music, where she received an honorary doctorate in 2003. She has won three Grammy Awards, including a 2013 award for Best Jazz Instrumental Album, which established her as the first female musician to win a Grammy in this category.
Carrington serves as Founder and Artistic Director of the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice and The Carr Center in Detroit, MI. She also serves on the Board of Trustees for The Recording Academy, Board of Directors for International Society for Jazz Arrangers and Composers and the Advisory Board for The History Makers and New Music USA.