Grammy winner Terri Lyne Carrington mentors Toronto students

Grammy winning jazz drummer Terri Lyne Carrington is at York University for a residency offering free workshops and performances for students and the public. Dilshad Burman with her groundbreaking work in jazz and social justice advocacy.

By Dilshad Burman

Fresh off her fourth Grammy win, jazz drummer Terri Lyne Carrington flew down for a three-day residency at Toronto’s York University, where both students and the public can listen to and learn from the renowned artist.

Carrington won best instrumental jazz album this year for New Standards Vol. 1, in collaboration with Canadian composer Kris Davis, guitarist Matthew Stevens, bassist Linda May Han Oh and trumpet player Nicholas Payton. She made history in 2014 as the first woman to win in that category.

“For this album to be recognized by the academy and it’s voters was very special because the mission is to do corrective work and helping to recognize more women composers in the field,” she tells CityNews.

Carrington is as well respected for her music as she is for her activism for gender equality in jazz and the industry as a whole.

“There’s been a lot of women that wanted to play this music and didn’t feel welcomed or didn’t have access or didn’t have mentors. Now, I feel a shift with that. And I think the most important thing is not to just have women because we want women, but to have equitable circumstances so that women feel like there’s opportunity there for them as well,” she says.

“We’ve had a pivotal moment from ‘Me Too’ and ‘Times Up’ and ‘Black Lives Matter’ and we can’t be left behind. Jazz and every other art form has to make sure that it’s on the right side of history, but also make sure it is contributing to this change — it’s been far too long coming for women to have more of a voice in the creation of the music.”

Carrington was presented with an honourary doctorate by York University last year. She says returning to mentor students under the university’s Oscar Peterson residency program is an opportunity to both further, and be a part of the future of jazz.

“I think anybody that really loves the music is concerned about it surviving and thriving and the only way that it will is through young people,” she says. “At some point, I realized that being an educator was satisfying another part of my artistry and contributing to our musical community differently than playing shows or making records.”

She says she’s moved not only by the talent she’s seen in young musicians at the university, but also with their awareness of and engagement in social issues.

“I really am impressed with their consciousness around some of these issues. I think we used to just go practice and play and be in this insular jazz world. And now I think everybody’s seeing that we have to be progressive. We have to be conscious. We have to help move the music forward in other ways other than just the notes,” she says.

In addition, the residency is made more meaningful for Carrington as she shares a personal connection with Oscar Peterson.

“He’s somebody I knew and played with when I was 11 years old. And through playing with him, I got a full scholarship to Berkeley College of Music, so I was forever indebted to him. So it’s nice to be in this space that he has graced as well.”

Students who have attended the workshops so far say they’re inspired by not just her music, but also her advocacy for social justice.

“She’s a huge inspiration, it’s just incredible that she’s actually here,” says drum student Mary Code. “Her last album .. she talked about so many important issues like police brutality, mass incarceration, political prisoners, and she just really shows that you can be a globally recognized artist and also really use your platform to give voice to important issues.”

“It’s really great to have mentors that are really trying to put a positive spin on the world,” adds alto-saxophone student Jake Whitla.

Carrington says for her, it’s a mutual exchange of energy, innovation and creativity.

For me, surrounding myself with people of this generation helps to keep me relevant and helps to keep me in tune with what’s happening today. So it goes both ways — I think I’m trying to inspire as well as be inspired.”

Click here for the free events and concerts open to the public during Carrington’s residency.

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