Jazz drummer Terry Lyne Carrington was born in Medford, Massachusetts in 1965. She developed a reputation as a child prodigy jamming with jazz veterans Dizzy Gillespie, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Oscar Peterson, Joe Williams and many more. At 7 she was given her first set of drums which had belonged to her grandfather, Matt Carrington, who had played with Fats Waller and Chuck Berry. After studying privately for three years, she played her first major performance at the Wichita Jazz Festival with Clark Terry. Shortly afterward she received a full scholarship, at age 11, to Berklee College of Music where she started playing with such people as Kevin Eubanks, Mike Stern, Branford Marsalis, Greg Osby and others. She also studied under master drum instructor Alan Dawson and made a private recording entitled “TLCandFriends” with Kenny Barron, Buster Williams, George Coleman and her dad, Sonny Carrington, before turning 17. Abstract Logix caught up with Terry during her tour of Europe with Herbie Hancock and Gary Thomas and she kindly spared the time to do this interview.
AL: We know it’s been asked over and over, but you are in a male dominated domain?
TLC: I am always asked this question and in the past I tried to ignore the female factor because I saw it as unimportant, but now I see how trippy the whole thing really was during a time when there just were not many women playing drums. There are a lot more now than there was when I started, so the climate has changed. I guess the way I got through it was to not think about it or let other people’s issues effect me. I just tried to be as good as I could and hoped that brought me forward and I also hoped that people paid attention to me because of my drumming abilities and not because they saw it as a novelty.
AL: Does your approach to the drums differ per the artist you are playing with?
TLC: My approach is different for every situation. Similar, but different. I cannot play the same in an electric environment as I do in an acoustic environment. I play different sizes, smaller drums with acoustic bands. I may use different heads, always coated ambassadors in acoustic settings, though sometimes clear heads in electric settings. I just try to respect whatever the music is and whatever it calls for and service the music and the leader. That way of thinking has worked for me. And staying versatile has given me an advantage. I work a lot because of this.
AL: One can hear some Tony Williams in your playing.
TLC: I love the way Tony played and his contributions to modern jazz drumming are unparalleled. We happen to be from the same home town as well, Boston. We studied with the same teacher, Alan Dawson, as many drummers that passed through Boston did. I can not help feeling his influence. Also because I play with some of the people he played with and that he helped to define the sound of – Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. It is difficult to find your own voice in these settings because of having heard Tony for so long with these musicians. I never sat down and tried to play any of his licks verbatim, but things emerge from saturation. I’m not mad at that!
AL: You recently worked with Stevie Wonder and Joni Mitchell.
TLC: That was my most favorite session recording that I ever did. I played with both of them the same day. I have always been a huge Joni fan due to the fact that I write songs and sing as well, and she is the absolute best at that in my book. I met her a long time ago with Wayne, so I was so excited about finally working with her on some level. I think the track, ‘The Man I Love’ is beautiful. Stevie Wonder is a genius to me. It was such an honor to do the session with him as well. He gave me the drum beat for St. Louis Blues. He hummed it to me and I took it from there.
AL: Just how important is it for a drummer to have good technique?
TLC: One has to have good technique so that you sound like you know what you’re doing, but I think too much emphasis can be put on this area of playing music and we lose the organic quality that comes from the soul. I think the idea is to learn as much technically as you can, then forget it so that you can be creative.
AL: Talk about practicing.
TLC: I need to practice more. I would like to start studying again. I have to just make it a priority and do it. It is hard when on the road all the time to find a practice regiment.
AL: What do you have in your gig bag these days?
TLC: I am playing with Greg Osby, Jimmy Haslip and Steve Khan. This is a lot of fun. I also do gigs as a leader featuring my own music. Gary Thomas plays with me as well as various rhythm section players. Russell Ferrante, Bob Hurst, Scott Colley, John Pattitucci, Mulgrew Miller, Renee Rosnes, Geri Allen, Patrice Rushen and Rachel Z have all played with me.
AL: What do you discuss at your drum clinics?
TLC: I show the exercises that I learned ion my formative years, stuff from the great Alan Dawson. And then I talk about areas that are important to me how to use all of your limbs as equally as possible, how to keep an open mind, how to be sensitive and powerful at the same time, how to break up the time, how swing is not a formula. I also play with a play along CD sometimes.
AL: Do you have a musical moment that really sticks out for you?
TLC: The first one that comes to mind is the one I spoke of earlier with Joni Mitchell and Stevie Wonder. As a second thought, I recently had a gig with Herbie Hancock quartet; Scott Colley, Gary Thomas and myself, where the music reached a place I had not experienced before. We were cosmically and mystically all connected. It was very powerful and almost scary. I had to let go and let whatever was going top happen, happen without trying to be in control. I felt like a channel for something far greater than myself.