Jazz violinist Regina Carter began playing at the age of four in a class that used the Suzuki method. This method of instruction does not require a child to read music; they learn by hearing a song and trying to mimic the notes with a tiny violin. In an issue of Downbeat, Carter joked, “They had just started to use the Suzuki method at the school where I was studying. And I don’t think they got it quite right. You see, they didn’t check my playing against the real song for accuracy, like they’re supposed to. If they had, I don’t think I’d be playing violin today!” She just released her second jazz solo album called Something for Grace.
Carter was exposed to a variety of music growing up in Detroit where she started playing the piano at the age of two and switched to violin at four. Her early influences were mainly classical music. She performed with the Detroit Civic Symphony. “People are only used to hearing violin in European classical music or country music,” Carter once said. She proved to audiences that the violin is capable of playing many types of music—from Latin to Rhythm & Blues.
When she attended the prestigious Cass Technical High School in Detroit, she listened to Motown, Latin, Middle Eastern, and R & B styles of music. She told Downbeat, “There’s a big Latin community—Mexican Village—and we used to go down to Clark Park where you can hear all kinds of music all the time.” During high school, she also developed a love for jazz after she heard Jean-Luc Ponty. She recalled, “I just immediately fell in love with it and started studying jazz a little bit in high school.” After high school, Carter attended the New England Conservatory in Boston, Massachusetts and Oakland University in Michigan. During that time, she belonged to a multi-cultural band that played all types of music—including lyrics in Arabic.
In 1987 Carter joined an all-female jazz band based in Detroit. The band, called Straight Ahead, performed often in Detroit and gained enough of a following to grab the attention of Atlantic Records. Carter recorded two albums with Straight Ahead and then decided to move to New York to pursue other interests. In New York, Carter worked with Oliver Lake, Max Roach, and the Uptown String Quartet. In 1993 she became a regular violinist for the well-known String Trio of New York, a jazz band that formed in 1979. The group performs avant-garde and post-bop styles of jazz, with plenty of improvisation—Regina Carter’s passion. Her first album with the String Trio, Octagon, received rave reviews. Jon Andrews of Downbeat wrote, “Regina
For the Record…
Born Regina Carter. Education: attended New England Conservatory and Oakland University.
Started playing violin at age four—learned by Suzuki method; exposed to variety of music in Detroit including Latin, R & B, and jazz; joined jazz band Straight Ahead, 1987; recorded two albums with Straight Ahead and performed in concert often; left Straight Ahead and moved to New York, 1992; played with Oliver Lake, Max Roach, and Uptown String Quartet; joined String Trio of New York, 1993; recorded two albums with String Trio of New York: Octagon and Blues…?; worked with bassist Mark Helias on Loopin’ the Cool, 1995; recorded first jazz solo album for Atlantic Jazz titled Regina Carter, 1995; toured with Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra for Blood on the Fields epic, 1996; recorded second solo album for Atlantic Jazz titled Something for Grace, 1997.
Address: Record company —Atlantic Records, 1290 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10104.
Carter’s arrival as a violinist, along with new material, changes the formula significantly. Throughout Octagon, Carter plays with a clear, pure tone….” In 1996 the String Trio released Blues…?. Jon Andrews again approved of Carter’s effort. He wrote, “She maintains a beautiful tone while strutting and gliding through these tracks, including her own reggae-based ‘Hurry Up and Wait.” Blues …? covers tunes from Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and Lee Morgan as well as originals from bassist John Lindberg.
In 1995 Carter also worked with bassist Mark Helias on his album Loopin’ the Coòl. Ellery Eskelin played tenor saxophone on the record. Mark Corbett of Downbeat commented, “With the Carter/Eskelin frontline, Helias has created a provocative combination—the tenor/violin mix is startling, especially on the many unison sections that feature the two in tandem.” He also remarked, “Carter exercises complete control, avoiding the high-harmonic flurries to which other violinists often gravitate; check her feature ‘El Baz’.” Other artists have benefited from Carter’s unique jazz/R&B violin including: Antonio Hart, Faith Evans, Vanessa Rubin, Daniel Johnston, Mary J. Blige, and Patti Labelle.
In 1995 Carter recorded her first solo effort for Atlantic Records, simply titled Regina Carter. Her producer, Victor Bailey focused on the “smooth jazz” radio audiences and tried to make the record easy listening. Carter explained, “There’s a certain formula for how a tune has to be put together. It might be that you need to state the melody a second time or a little bit more so people really remember that melody. And a lot of times I find, on records that are more for… commercial radio, the solos should be very limited because people aren’t really listening for that.” Carter is aware that if her solo records don’t sell, the record company may dump her. She manages to keep her perspective. She said, “The record isn’t my goal. My goal is to continue to write and play music that’s true to me, and if I remember that always, no one can take that away from me.”
Carter dedicated her second solo effort Something for Grace to her mother, whom Carter praises for her encouragement and support. This album was also targeted for the smooth-jazz radio format. Ben Ratliff of the New York Times calls the format “jazz’s blander shadow-world.” However, Frank-John Hadley of Downbeat was impressed. He wrote, “Carter is her own woman and she records the kind of music that she deems suitable for honest expression….” Arif Mardin produced three of the tracks on the album. Carter admitted to being a little tense about working with him. “We were all uptight,” she recalled. “But then Arif walked in, ordered lunch, and instantly broke the tension. He knows exactly how to bring the best out of people.” Hadley wrote, “[Mardin] frames Carter’s adoration of melody and modest flair for improvisation….”
Carter built her reputation as a great jazz violinist with years of solid live performances that left critics dazzled. One of her greatest achievements was performing with Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra on their international tour of Blood on the Fields. In January 1998, Carter appeared at New York’s Sweet Basil for a series of concerts. Ben Ratliff of the New York Times wrote, “she proved something that perhaps didn’t need proving except for the fact that there’s so little evidence of it: that the violin’s role in deeply swinging jazz is perfectly natural….” He described her music as “rapid, hornlike chromatic improvising, whinnying, double-stopped fragments of the blues and … glassy harmonics that sounded like pan pipes.”
Carter gives all the credit for her talent to God. She said, “What I’m doing and I’m playing is not really mine. I’m being used as a vessel, and I have to thank God.” Her liner notes read, “Praise GOD from whom all blessings flow.” No doubt she considers Suzuki one of those many blessings from God.
with Straight Ahead
Look Straight Ahead, Atlantic Records, 1992.
Body and Soul, Atlantic Records 1993.
with String Trio of New York
Octagon, Black Saint, 1994.
Blues…? (includes “Hurry Up and Wait”), Black Saint, 1996.
Regina Carter, Atlantic Records, 1995.
Something for Grace, Atlantic Records1997.
(Mary J. Blige) My Life, 1994.
(Daniel Johnston) Fun, 1994.
(Vanessa Rubin) I’m Glad There Is You-A Tribute to Carmen McRae, 1994.
(Faith Evans) Faith Evans, 1995.
(Antonio Hart) It’s All Good, 1995.
(Mark Helias) Loopin’the Cool (includes “El Baz”), 1996.
(Hollywood Bowl Orchestra) Prelude to a Kiss, 1996.
(Madeline Peyroux) Dreamland, 1996.
(Rachel Z) Room of One’s Own, 1996.
(Johnny Almendra) Reconfirmando, 1997.
(Patti Labelle) Flame, 1997.
(Billy Lawrence) Come On, 1997.
(Quartette Indigo) Afrika Afrika, 1997.
(Gary Smulyan) Gary Smulyan with Strings, 1997.
Downbeat, June, 1996; September, 1994; November, 1997; December, 1997.
New York Times, January 8, 1998.
Time, February 9, 1998.
Additional information provided by the Atlantic Records website and Atlantic press materials; liner notes from Something for Grace; the Music Boulevard website on America Online; All-Music Guide, A Complete Online Database of Recorded Music, provided by Matrix Software.
"Carter, Regina." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 12, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/carter-regina
"Carter, Regina." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved November 12, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/carter-regina
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Carter, Regina 1966(?)–
Regina Carter 1966(?)–
By the last months of the twentieth century, Regina Carter was bringing together the various strands of her career as a jazz violinist. Signed to the Verve label, a jazz imprint with a deep sense of tradition yet a long record of receptivity to innovation, she had released her third solo album, Rhythms of the Heart. In the words of Playboy reviewer Neil Tesser, it was “the first on which she fully integrates voluptuous tone, bop-forged technique, affinity for R&B and lessons learned from the avant-garade.”
Melding all her influences together into a cohesive style of her own had been Carter’s great challenge. Her talent, nurtured since she started taking piano lessons at the age of two, had never been in doubt. And unlike some jazz musicians who kept to the narrow paths of an increasingly refined art, Carter had always remained open to the music around her, soaking up new sounds and incorporating them into her art. Yet Carter’s road to jazz prominence was a long one. Some of its twists came from the dual difficulty she faced from the start: jazz has had few violinists and few female instrumentalists of any kind. As a female violinist, Regina Carter was something new in the jazz world.
Carter was born around 1966 (a 1999 Seattle Post-Intelligencer interview gave her age as 33). Growing up in Detroit, she gained motivation from her mother Grace, an elementary-school teacher who recognized her daughter’s oval scrawls as attempts to write music and encouraged her. Carter studied classical violin from age four, and her talents were strong enough to get her into master classes with the classical virtuosos Itzhak Perlman and Yehudi Menuhin. Learning the violin first by the innovative Suzuki method, in which children learn tunes by imitation rather than by reading music, Carter did not learn to read music until she was ten.
When she encountered the improvisationally-based art of jazz as a high school student, Carter was ready. She heard performances by the jazz violinist Jean-Luc Ponty and guitarist Wes Montgomery, but hesitated when she heard the usual warnings that it would be impossible for her to play well in both classical and jazz styles. Inspiration struck when a friend took her to see the legendary French swing violinist Stephane Grappelli. “We’re sitting at this club and out walks this distinguished old man holding a violin,” Carter told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
Born ca, 1966; grew up in Detroit, Michigan; mother Grace Carter, a schoolteacher, Education: attended Oakland University, Auburn Hills, Michigan; graduated from New England Conservatory of Music, Boston, Massachusetts.
Career: Jazz violinist Studied classical violin from age four; switched to jazz in high school; joined jazz band Straight Ahead, 1987; recorded two albums for Atlantic with Straight Ahead; moved to New York, 1991; joined String Trio of New York; signed to Atlantic Records as solo artist, 1995; released Regina Carter, 1995; toured with Wynton Marsalis Blood on the Fields live production, 1996; released Something for Grace, 1997; released album Rhythms of the Heart on Verve label, 1999.
Addresses: Record company —Verve Records, 825 Eighth Ave., 26th floor, New York, New York 10019.
“I thought, ‘This guy is going to play jazz? This guy is going to hit all the changes and swing at the same time?’ Oh, but how he played. That was it. I knew then and there what I wanted to do with my training.”
Despite opposition from her mother, Carter sought out jazz training, first hanging out with Detroit trumpeter Marcus Belgrave, and then at suburban Detroit’s Oakland University, where she played in a multi-ethnic group that included white, black, and Indian musicians and a Chaldean (Iraqi Christian) vocalist who sang the rock number “Wild Thing” in Arabic. Graduating from the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, she headed back to Detroit and in 1987 joined the all-female band Straight Ahead. The growing success of this group inspired Carter to take the plunge and move to New York in 1991.
Carter hooked up with the String Trio of New York, a jazz group that valued Carter’s classical background and eclectic musical ways. This group released three albums for the Black Saint label, Intermobility, Octagon, and Blues…?, but Carter’s life as a struggling jazz musician was not easy. Living in the rough Kensington neighborhood of Brooklyn, she suffered from panic attacks and was barely able to pay her bills.
Still, Carter’s energetic live performances were gaining her wider notice, and Atlantic signed her to a solo contract in 1995. Her solo albums for Atlantic, Regina Carter and Something for Grace (dedicated to her mother), fell into the smooth jazz genre, heavily influenced by rhythm and blues music and targeted for air play on urban radio stations. The extent of Atlantic’s commitment to its new instrumental star was demonstrated by the presence in her stable of longtime hitmaking producer Arif Mardin, who helmed three tracks on Something for Grace. That album also contained straight-ahead jazz tracks that won the admiration of purists such as Scott Yanow of the All Music Guide to Jazz, who praised Carter’s “near-classic renditions” of Eddie Harris’s “Listen Here” and Mal Waldron’s “Soul Eyes.”
Carter, it seemed, was searching for a rougher edge than her Atlantic sound offered room to develop, and she delved both into more popular forms and into more experimental types of jazz. She appeared and recorded with popular vocalists such as Faith Evans, Patti Labelle, and even country vocalist Tanya Tucker—asked whether she could play country fiddle to back up Tucker for a television appearance, she answered (recalling the encounter in a Down Beat interview), “I can now!” Carter appeared on Lauryn Hill’s pathbreaking hip-hop over-view of the recent African-American musical past, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. On the jazz front, she performed with the touring ensemble of trumpeter Wynton Marsalis’s Blood on the Fields production, taking a dramatic solo near the end that, according to Yanow of the All Music Guide to Jazz, “nearly always stole the show.”
By 1999, Carter was ready to put the varied pieces of her career together. The Rhythms of the Heart album on the Verve label seemed to mark the true birth of a distinguished career. The album contained various kinds of jazz, including Afro-Cuban, Brazilian bossa nova, blues, swing, r&b, hard bop, and bebop; the stylistic diversity made her feel comfortable and showed the beginnings of a recognizable violin sound, influenced by earlier giants such as Ponty but absolutely distinctive. Carter looked forward to a reinvigorated jazz scene, and hoped to expand her musical creativity into the area of composition. As she really had been doing all along, she strove toward a deeper self-definition. “Now I really need to figure out, ‘Who am I?’,” she told Down Beat. “Or, ‘Who do I want to present to the world?’ Am I ready to stand up and say, ‘This is me?’”
with Straight Ahead
Look Straight Ahead, Atlantic, 1992.
Body and Soul, Atlantic, 1993.
with the String Trio of New York
Octagon, Black Saint, 1994.
Blues…?, Black Saint, 1996.
Regina Carter, Atlantic, 1995.
Something for Grace, Atlantic, 1997.
Rhythms of the Heart, Verve, 1999.
Contemporary Musicians, volume 22, Gale, 1998.
Erlewine, Michael, etal., eds., All Music Guide to Jazz, Miller Freeman, 1998.
Down Beat, September 1996, p. 58; November 1997, p. 41; December 1997, p. 76; June 1999, p. 20.
Playboy, September 1999, p. 26.
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 3, 1999, p. 9.
Time, July 26, 1999, p. 76.
—James M. Manheim
"Carter, Regina 1966(?)–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 12, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/carter-regina-1966
"Carter, Regina 1966(?)–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved November 12, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/carter-regina-1966