Terri Lyne Carrington's all-woman album The Mosaic Project won best jazz vocal album at the Grammys on Sunday night. The album, featuring Esperanza Spalding, Nona Hendryx, Dianne Reeves, Ingrid Jensen and others, brought together a formidable group of women to celebrate the female experience through jazz.
Carrington is extinguishing the myth that the drummer’s chair in a jazz band is the genre’s last preserve of exclusive maleness. Ever since the late pioneering jazz composer and pianist, Mary Lou Williams settled in with irreverent style behind the band with the rest of the boys, women have been excelling in every chair in the jazz orchestra, except this one. That's until Carrington came along.
At the incomprehensibly tender age of 10, Carrington was already playing drums for the legendary trumpeter, Clark Terry. She went on to win over fans with her precocious skills including such jazz luminaries as Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and the late Buddy Rich. Today she’s one of only a handful of elite women jazz drummers on this planet. And as such it’s still hard to ignore the intoxicating disconnect between traditional gender roles in America’s oldest musical art form and how women like Carrington approach this music in their own distinctive way.
Heavy, heavy musicians
The Mosaic Project was an opportunity for the performers to think about how they see themselves in the context of jazz today. “Now nobody can have in their mind that women aren’t as strong on their instruments,” Carrington says in a video her label produced about the project.
Her Mosaic project band mate and 2011 Grammy Award winner, Esperanza Spalding adds, “This is powerful music. These are heavy, heavy, heavy musicians who have played with the best.”
Carrington’s Canadian friends
Canadian jazz musician Phil Dwyer marvels at Carrington’s musical presence. “Terri Lyne is my definition of the perfect drummer. Nobody has ever made such a big impression on me so quickly.”
Dwyer continues, “We were both 17 when we met on the way to performing with (saxophonist) Steve Grossman. I was completely smitten. She was gorgeous and so nice to me, and already fully ensconced in the hierarchy of the jazz world.”
Canadian trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, who played on The Mosaic Project, says the experience has been transformative.
“I’ve had a fan rush up to me at a gig saying ‘I saw you playing on The Mosaic Project. That record was really amazing!’ I’ve never had that kind of thing happen before.”
Grammys and kudos just seem to be part of the positive feedback loop encircling The Mosaic Project these days. But it’s worth remembering the obstacles that took decades to clear away.
Mary Lou Williams summed up the challenges for a previous generation of women artists in jazz when she said “I did it, didn’t I? Through muck and mud.” Williams would no doubt have applauded Carrington and The Mosaic Project sisterhood for all the great music, achieved with a little less muck and mud. Take a deep bow, ladies. You’ve earned it.
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on Feb 07, 2012