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Encore: Drummer Terri Lyne Carrington on her book, 'New Standards'


In 2018, jazz drummer Terri Lyne Carrington founded the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice. The question at the heart of the program is, what would jazz sound like in a culture without patriarchy? And for its opening celebration, Carrington asked two students to play some live music.

TERRI LYNE CARRINGTON: And when they said, well, what do you want us to play, I said, well, just pick some standards or some tunes written by women. And they called me back and said, we can't find any.


SUMMERS: Carrington's students had been looking in "The Real Book," a collection of sheet music which, for decades, has been the authority on which jazz songs are standards or classics. And to this day, "The Real Book" is dominated by the work of men.

CARRINGTON: So immediately, I realized this is a sign that I'm doing the right thing, first of all, by starting the institute. And second of all, this will become our first initiative.

SUMMERS: An initiative to correct the record and create an alternative to "The Real Book" that would highlight the work of women in jazz. Now, four years later, Carrington's done it. She's out with a book of 101 compositions by women, spanning the last century of jazz. She and other artists also recorded a batch of them for a new album. It's called "New Standards."


SUMMERS: As you were putting this collection together, were there some tracks that you immediately knew they just had to be a part of this?

CARRINGTON: There were a few people that I knew I wanted to include. One was Abbey Lincoln, and she has so many amazing songs. But I chose "Throw It Away," and it's one of her classic songs and one that people know.


ABBEY LINCOLN: (Singing) I think about the life I live, a figure made of clay, and think about the things I lost, the things I gave away.

CARRINGTON: And I tried to pick 11 songs for the album that showed the variety of jazz styles that are in the book. And I wanted to make sure there were songs people recognized as well as obscure songs.

SUMMERS: Give us an example of one of those obscure songs - something that perhaps had really been left behind and forgotten that you felt was important.

CARRINGTON: Well, there is a composer, her name is Sara Cassey who was from Detroit and lived in New York. And she was a jazz composer and was really kind of well-known a bit back in the day. A lot of people recorded her music. But, you know, it's not that they were hit records or anything like that. So I don't think a lot of people today know who she is. So we have one of her songs called "Windflower" in the book and on the album.


SUMMERS: In many ways, as I think about this project, to me, at least, it feels like you are revisiting and, in many ways, refreshing some of the ways that the history of jazz has been told. And you're inviting people to come along with you and to see it and to hear it from a new perspective. I'd love to know for you, how would you describe your goal?

CARRINGTON: Well, I think, you know, my story is such that I was pretty celebrated at a very young age and grew up in the music feeling like an exception. And it wasn't really until the last 10 years or so that I figured out that that's not cool. It's not cool to be an exception. And what about everybody else? And of course, there are a few women that have come through and are widely recognized. But there are a lot more that aren't and, more importantly, a lot more that have the potential and had the potential that was never realized. So the overall goal is to change the culture to say that these women have always existed. And there's a lot more coming, and we need to pay attention.

SUMMERS: You said that you grew up feeling like an exception in the music world but that in the span of about 10 years, you came to a realization that that wasn't necessarily a good thing. What happened in the intervening 10 years to lead you to where you are now?

CARRINGTON: Well, I've been teaching at Berklee for about 16 years now. And one day I had a meeting with the Women in Jazz Collective, and they started telling me their stories. And it really hit me in a different way this time, you know, maybe because I'm older and maybe because I got a lot closer to this generation through teaching. And I said, well, let me just create a space here at the college where they can come and not worry about these extra burdens that women often face trying to learn how to play jazz.

SUMMERS: And what - if I can ask, Terri, what were those extra burdens?

CARRINGTON: Oh, well, I mean, there's so many extra burdens that women have to deal with compared to their male counterparts - how you look on stage, people hitting on you, people not giving you solos - like, band directors in middle school and high school looking at you to play, you know, a functional role as a horn player in a big band but not helping you develop as an improviser - just people coming up to you at a show before you play, asking if you're the girlfriend of the band or a waitress in the club or, you know, all of these extra things that, you know, make you feel sometimes like you're not supposed to be there.


SUMMERS: And it strikes me that you're talking about formative, painful experiences that are happening, in many cases, at a young age. What do you see in them, in this next generation of rising jazz stars?

CARRINGTON: Well, that's the great part about teaching because you realize that you're teaching future teachers, even if they don't know it yet. You know, a lot of people want to be performers and end up teaching. Most of us end up teaching in some way or another. So with that in mind, you know, we're trying to help, you know, shape the future differently with a different kind of consciousness around not just gender equity but, you know, racial justice and ableism and environmental justice and animal justice. All of these things are connected. So we're trying to teach the whole student.

And one thing that I'm very excited about is the young men of this generation seem to be rejecting this kind of jazz bro culture. That's the slang that the students use. But, yeah, they're rejecting that, and they're rejecting hypermasculinity. And so they're drawn to our institute because they can just be themselves without having to fit into this in a more stereotypical way.


SUMMERS: That's Terri Lyne Carrington, Grammy-winning drummer and composer. Her new album and book of jazz compositions is called "New Standards." Terri, thank you so much.

CARRINGTON: Oh, thank you.


Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.