Carrington, Terri Lyne

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Terri Lyne Carrington

Drummer, composer, producer

By the time drummer Terri Lyne Carrington released her solo debut, Real Life Story, in 1988 at the age of 23, she boasted a resume of which many jazz musicians can only dream. A child prodigy who entered the prestigious Berklee School of Music in Boston at the age of eleven, Carrington developed her skills in the classroom as well as on stage with some of jazz music's most legendary names.

Carrington was born into a musical family in Medford, Massachusetts, on August 4, 1965. Her mother played piano as a hobby and her father, Sonny Carrington, was a tenor saxophone player and president of the Boston Jazz Society. Her grandfather, Matt Carrington, played drums with Fats Waller and Chu Berry. Carrington began her musical studies on the alto saxophone, but gave it up when she lost her baby teeth and then found it hard to manipulate the instrument. Discovering her grandfather's old drum kit underneath a stairwell in her family's home, she pestered her father to assemble it for her. He did, and Carrington proved a natural.

Carrington began to take drum lessons from Keith Copeland and sit in with jazz veterans such as trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, saxophonist Rahsaan Roland Kirk, pianist Oscar Peterson, and vocalist Joe Williams. When she was ten, trumpeter Clark Terry brought her to the Wichita Jazz Festival to perform with his ensemble. There she met drummer Buddy Rich, who secured Carrington a spot on a television show called To Tell the Truth.

A year later when Carrington was eleven, she received a special scholarship to attend the prestigious Berklee School of Music in Boston, where she remained for three semesters. While at Berklee she performed with such up-and-coming musicians as guitarist Kevin Eubanks and saxophonists Branford Marsalis and Greg Osby. In 1981 she recorded a privately issued album, TLC and Friends, with her father and with pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Buster Williams, and saxophonist George Coleman.

Carrington recalled in the online magazine All Access that, although her father was also a jazz musician, he never pressured her to follow in his footsteps. "He wanted me to do whatever I wanted with my life," she said. "But I chose to play, because it was the most interesting thing to me. Playing so young let me see how it was really done, and it meant a lot to get encouragement from legends like Dizzy Gillespie and Rahsaan Roland Kirk."

Carrington graduated from high school at the age of 16, and moved to New York City where she joined pianist Roland Hanna and flutist/saxophone player Frank Wess in the New York Jazz Quartet. She subsequently reunited with Clark Terry and joined him on a European tour during 1984-85. This was followed by work with saxophonists Pharoah Sanders and Lester Bowie, vocalist Cassandra Wilson, and flutist/saxophonist James Moody, among others. In 1987 she beat out 14 other competitors for a slot touring with saxophonist and fusion pioneer Wayne Shorter, founder of the band Weather Report, with whom she continued to tour and record into the 1990s. She led her own ensemble briefly during that time, and toured with saxophonist David Sanborn in 1988.

The year 1988 proved to be a watershed for Carrington. She moved to Los Angeles, where she released her major label debut, Real Life Story, on Verve Forecast, and then became the drummer in the house band for the Arsenio Hall Show. The album, co-produced by Carrington and Robert Irving, featured an array of styles and guest artists, including guitarist/vocalist Carlos Santana, jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves, blues guitarist John Scofield, and Wayne Shorter. In an interview with Down Beat, Carrington, who also sings on the album, stressed that she did not want to be restricted to certain instruments or musical styles. "Some people like to use stereotypes. They might want to label me as a jazz drummer because I had been associated with more traditional kinds of jazz for so long," she said. "So they hear my album and they're surprised that there's no traditional, swinging jazz on it. Well, all I got to say is, pigeonholes are for pigeons." The album was nominated for a Grammy.

Following the release of Real Life Story, Carrington moved behind the scenes and began to make her mark as a producer. She produced one track on Reeves's Art and Survival and all of That Day. In addition to playing drums on the albums, she also produced all or part of albums released by Danish pop artists Monique, Stig Rossen, and the Doky Bros. "Drummers bring something unique to the production world, which tends to be dominated by keyboard players," Carrington told the All Access website. "They have a great sense of structure, of how a song should flow."

Carrington has continued to tour and record with various musicians, most notably vocalist Cassandra Wilson and keyboardist Herbie Hancock, whose 2002 Future 2 Future tour she helped conceptualize. She also contributed both musically and conceptually to Hancock's Grammy-winning 1998 album Gershwin's World. In the late 1990s, following the cancellation of the Arsenio Hall Show, she became the in-house drummer for the late-night television show Vibe, hosted by comedian Sinbad.

Carrington released her second solo effort, Jazz Is a Spirit, on the German ACT label in 2002. "Its pacing of ethereal ballads, moody mid-tempo ruminations and bristling up-tempo compositions reveal Carrington as a masterful producer who knows how to maximize an engaging listening experience," noted Down Beat in 2002. Her third solo album, Structure, was released by the High Note label in the spring of 2004.

In an interview with United Press International, Carrington described her belief that her versatility stems from her early jazz training. "Because of my jazz background I'm more equipped to do a variety of things," she said. "There is a longer history and tradition you have to learn. It is technically more difficult. There are a lot of people who started playing jazz and can't move into the simpler arenas—pop, rock or funk—because they don't have enough respect for it, to really learn how it is done." Carrington, on the other hand, would like to have her hands in every pot. "I love reggae, I love straightahead jazz, I love funk," she told Down Beat. "Shoot, I wanna play in a heavy metal band! I wanna do it all."

Selected discography

Real Life Story, Verve Forecast, 1988.

For the Record …

Born on August 4, 1965, in Medford, MA; daughter of Sonny Carrington (a saxophonist and president of the Boston Jazz Society). Education: Attended Berklee School of Music, 1976-77.

Debuted at Witchita Jazz Festival at age ten, performing with trumpeter Clark Terry; recorded privately released CD, TLC and Friends, at age 16; played with pianist Roland Hanna and flutist/saxophone player Frank Wess in the New York Jazz Quartet; toured with Terry from 1984-85, with saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, 1986, with flutist/saxophonist James Moody, 1987, and with Wayne Shorter from 1987-95; led ensemble, 1987-88; toured with saxophonist David Sanborn, 1988; released debut album, Real Life Story, 1988; became drummer on Arsenio Hall Show beginning in 1989, and on late-night television show Vibe in the late 1990s.

Addresses: Website—Terri Lyne Carrington Official Website: E-mail[email protected]

Jazz is a Spirit, ACT, 2003.



Associated Press, August 21, 1989.

Down Beat, June 1989; November 2002.

Musician, June 1989.

United Press International, July 14, 1989.


"Terri Lyne Carrington," All Access, (April 25, 2004).

"Terri Lyne Carrington," All Music Guide, (April 20, 2004).

"Terri Lyne Carrington," Grove Dictionary of Music, (April 20, 2004).

Terri Lyne Carrington Official Website, (April 25, 2004).

—Kristin Palm

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Carrington, Terri Lyne

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Carrington, Terri Lyne