Terri Lyne Carrington on using jazz for advocacy: Photos, Video

- in NEWS, VIDEOS, Woman in Jazz & Blues

As a drummer, producer and educator, Terri Lyne Carrington seeks to use her music to educate her audience on the struggles that the Black community continues to face. “Activism was calling on me,” Carrington said.

Carrington, who has won three Grammys and is a recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts’ Jazz Masters award, spoke Thursday night at Syracuse University’s 38th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Public Affairs Lecture. The lecture was hosted by James Gordon Williams, an assistant professor of African American studies at SU.

The focal point of the discussion was Carrington’s album “Waiting Game,” which was nominated for a Grammy this year. Williams and Carrington started the event by discussing how musicians have used trial and error during the pandemic to experiment with technology in music.

People assume that musicians need to be entertaining and perform in front of people all the time, but there is so much work that can be done from home, Carrington said.

“It’s all about the mission,” she said. “No matter where you are.”

Carrington’s mission is to have ideas about activism shine through her music. She wants people to listen to the voices she advocates for in her music and learn about the racism and sexism that still is prevalent in the U.S.

Until she found her voice, she was hesitant to enter the male-dominated music industry due to the intimidation of gender domination, she said.

While on the road, Carrington met musicians Aaron Parks and Matthew Stevens and felt an artistic connection with them. The three began working together as the band Social Science, and their songs have featured musicians Debo Ray, Kassa Overall and Morgan Guerin.

“Talking to two white men about the social ills that affect mostly Black people was new for me, I hadn’t been having those conversations with white people,” Carrington said.

The racism and gender inequality that she addresses in her music is something that has to be addressed by many, not just marginalized communities, Carrington said. She wants to utilize the power of music to address these issues.

“We all have the ability to criticize the art form and have a calling in some ways to criticize the art form that we love so much,” Carrington said. “I mean, how else does it progress?”

While preparing for Social Science’s second album, the group was concerned about how they can be progressive in “painting the future and not focusing on the present and the past,” Carrington said.

Later on in the lecture, Williams showed the audience Carrington’s performance of “Trapped in the American Dream,” which she prerecorded for the 2021 Grammy Awards on March 14. After the song, he asked Carrington about her strategy for weaving text into her music.

“My jazz is going to be different than someone else’s jazz,” Carrington said.

Carrington also uses multimedia to express her political beliefs. Throughout her Grammy performance, the video transitioned from an American flag behind the lead singer to a shot of the pianist with a sign that said “Wall Street” behind them.

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The discussion transitioned to a song by Carrington that she considers one of her favorites, “No Justice (for Political Prisoners),” featuring singer-songwriter Meshell Ndegeocello. In the song, Carrington used audio from a prison phone call made by Mumia Abu-Jamal, a political activist and journalist convicted of murdering a Philadelphia police officer in 1981.

At the end of the song, Abu-Jamal said, “You’re listening to Terri Lyne Carrington and Social Science communicating comments, thoughts and prayers by the captive one, political prisoners in caves.” He was interrupted by an automated message from the jail.

“This is a call from Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution, this call is subject to recording and monitoring,” the message said.

Abu-Jamal ended the song, “In the land of the so-called free.”

Toward the end of the discussion, Williams took a question from the audience about whether Carrington felt censored by the mainstream because she includes such vivid anecdotes of politics and racial tension in her lyrics. As an artist, she has only grown and felt more liberated, she said.

Carrington also spoke about working with artist Rapsody on her song “The Anthem.” In the past, Carrington said, jazz and poetry were dominated by men, and women mostly performed as singers. Working with Rapsody on a piece that included spoken word was empowering, she said.

“I just really love seeing people like Rapsody telling a story, telling her story, telling our story,” Carrington said.

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