Terri Lyne Carrington: A Mosaic of Women in Music

Lesley Mahoney
September 16, 2011
Front row: Nona Hendryx and Gretchen Parlato. Back row: Geri Allen, Ingrid Jensen, Terri Lyne Carrington, Esperanza Spalding, Tineke Postma, and Helen Sung.
Terri Lyne Carrington
<em>Mosaic</em> was released in July 2011.
Photo by Michael Goldman
Photo by Tracy Love

Throughout her illustrious career as a sought-after drummer, Berklee percussion professor Terri Lyne Carrington '83 has collaborated with a wide range of musicians, forging friendships and musical connections. As it turns out, a lot of these musicians happen to be women.

"I guess over the years people have always tried to put in me in all-female configurations, and I tend to shy away from that, because I just find it limiting and there wasn't enough of a pool. I just didn't feel like it was necessary for me to play with women just because they were women," says Carrington. "And then one day, a couple of years ago, I realized I was playing with a lot of women, but it was just by choice—people who I thought played great."

About three years ago, while gigging with bassist/vocalist Esperanza Spalding '05, pianist/keyboardist Geri Allen, and saxophonist Tineke Postma at the Red Sea Jazz Festival in Israel, the idea came to Carrington to make an album featuring a host of female artists: "There was a vibe that I appreciated between Esperanza and Geri and myself and Tineke. I thought this would be good to record and I would expand on it."

From that inspired moment, Carrington wrote and arranged music, and approached vocalists and instrumentalists she'd worked with in the past with fully demoed songs, offering, "I wrote this with you in mind."

The resulting album, Mosaic, released in July 2011, features an all-star female cast, from Sheila E. to Dianne Reeves to Patrice Rushen.

On Tuesday, September 20, Carrington will perform with some of the album's performers—Nona Hendryx, Helen Sung, Ingrid Jensen, Shea Rose, and Hailey Niswanger—and others at Berklee's Cafe 939, followed by a clinic and Q&A.

Mosaic is composed of original instrumental tracks penned by Carrington as well as Carrington's arrangements of featured artists' songs, such as Hendryx's "Transformation" and Allen's "Unconditional Love," sung by Spalding. 

Hendryx's "Transformation" not only got a completely new Carrington arrangement, but showed up a second time in yet another iteration as a bonus hip-hop track remixed by alumni Shea Rose '11 and wiidope: "Sisters on the Rise (A Transformation)."

Hendryx was impressed with both treatments. "It's really amazing how people can interpret the same song in so many different ways. If a song has good bones, it will stand up," she says. Hendryx first performed with Carrington at Berklee's Women in Rock concert, where, she says, the drummer began to put her stamp on the song. "I've always been open to all types of music: from classical to R&B to funk and rock. And now jazz. This rounds me right out," she says.

For Rose, invoking Hendryx's lyrics "from one sister to another funky sister" was fitting for a project like Mosaic. "We're talking to each other lyrically," she says of the featured artists. Rose, who studied with Carrington in her Directed Study Ensemble, was thrilled at the chance to perform with such an all-star cast. "It's an honor. I'm still pinching myself," she says.

For the album, Carrington also arranged other artists' tunes—including Al Green's "Simply Beautiful" for Cassandra Wilson and Irving Berlin's "I Got Lost in His Arms" for Gretchen Parlato. 

A Diverse Showing

While the tracks fall under the umbrella of jazz, there are other styles and influences represented, such as soul and funk. And beyond style, the album is true to its name—bringing together a blend of musicians with varied experiences and backgrounds. "One goal of the project was to put together legendary figures—kind of the cream of the crop as far as women in jazz, as well as newcomers," says Carrington. "Diversity in age as well as cultural diversity. Because jazz to me is becoming more global. . . . That word means a lot of different things to a lot of people. It's pollinating in different ways, and I think this record gives you a little bit of that."

Along with Carrington, Spalding, and Rose, the Berklee influences on the album abound, including student Hailey Niswanger, alumna Anat Cohen '98, and Berklee ambassadors of artistry in education Hendryx and Rushen.

Rushen first saw Carrington perform as a young girl; they kept in touch from afar and then linked up musically for Wayne Shorter's 1990 album Joy Ryder, beginning a collaboration that continues today. For Mosaic, Rushen played keys on various tracks, including "Soul Talk," arranged by Carrington with lyrics by Hendryx, and featuring vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater.

"The collection represents something profound," says Rushen, noting that the women featured have achieved "status and stature based on their artistic expression."

The all-female cast lends a particular energy to Mosaic. "I could have done the same record with a bunch of guys, and musically it would have been just as strong as a musical statement because I would have chosen musicians I love to play with. But it's something about the energy of putting all these women together that really seems to excite people." Carrington says.

Carrington says she chose musicians who espouse the same kind of musicality that she does—the ability to play aggressively, sensually, and seductively at the same time—lending to the album's cohesiveness. "And just the fact that it's all women, and playing with this quality that women can possess—being aggressive and seductive at the same time—that contributes to that quality," she says.