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Drumming up interest in Newport

Terri Lyne Carrington’s father, a Lynn native, introduced her to the drums in their basement and she fell in love. (Courtesy Photo)

Terri Lyne Carrington never met her grandfather, Mattie Carrington, a talented drummer and one of the greatest musicians to ever come out of Lynn. He died about a month before Terri Lyne, who celebrates her 52nd birthday tomorrow, was born.

“Even though I never met him, I am connected to him. I took a liking to drums at age 7,” said Terri Lyne, a Grammy-winning drummer, composer and bandleader who has collaborated with many giants of both jazz and pop music.

On Saturday, Carrington and bassist Esperanza Spalding will participate in “Flying Toward the Sound: For Geri, With Love” at the Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island. It’s a tribute to their good friend Geri Allen, the acclaimed pianist who died in June at age 60 of cancer. The three were booked to perform at Newport; pianists Vijay Iyer, Jason Moran and Christian Sands will take Allen’s place.

One day, more than four decades ago, Terri Lyne’s dad Sonny, a Lynn native and sax player who shared stages with the likes of James Brown, Sam Cooke and BB King, brought Mattie Carrington’s Slingerland drum set up from the basement. For Terri Lyne, it was love at first rimshot. Her dad immediately realized she had the chops.

“He would pull them out every blue moon. One day he put a record on and I kept time. Dad was impressed,” said Terri Lyne. “I didn’t know that girls didn’t play drums. There was no stigma. My parents encouraged me. By late elementary school or junior high, most girls stop playing instruments and go to chorus, the boys go to band. I stuck with the drums.”  

“My dad’s a big jazz guy,” added the Medford High School graduate. At age 5, she saw Sonny sit in with Illinois Jacquet at Lennie’s on the Pike. “My dad knows everybody. He would take me to see someone and he would boast ‘She can play’ … and some would let me sit in.” By age 10, Terri Lyne had appeared with Clark Terry in front of 10,000 people at a festival in Kansas. At age 12, she played drums on “Straight, No Chaser” with Dizzy Gillespie at Sandy’s Jazz Club in Beverly. Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Oscar Peterson, Joe Williams and others also gave the kid a chance.

The jazz gene she inherited from dad and granddad certainly blossomed. (Mattie Carrington played with Duke Ellington and Sammy Davis Jr., was house drummer in several Lynn theaters and brought Fats Waller home to Marianna Street for a rollicking all-night party with the area’s top musicians).

After touring for more than 20 years with Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Al Jarreau, Stan Getz, David Sanborn, Joe Sample, Cassandra Wilson, Dianne Reeves and others, she returned to her hometown and alma mater (class of 1983), Berklee College of Music, where she studied under full scholarship. She teaches with the Berklee Global Jazz Institute and for the past decade has been artistic director of the Berklee Beantown Jazz Festival, a free outdoor block party in downtown Boston.

In 2011, Carrington released “The Mosaic Project,” which won a Grammy for best jazz vocal album. The 14-song set included some of the most prominent female jazz artists of the last few decades. It recently was included in National Public Radio’s list of “The 150 Greatest Albums Made By Women.”

In 2013, Carrington released “Money Jungle: Provocative in Blue,” an homage to Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and Max Roach. Carrington made history when she became the first woman to win a Grammy for best jazz instrumental album.

“The Mosaic Project: LOVE and SOUL” in 2015 presented Carrington leading a rotating cast of female instrumentalists and vocalists that included Oleta Adams, Natalie Cole, Paula Cole, Lalah Hathaway, Chaka Khan, Chanté Moore, Valerie Simpson, Nancy Wilson, Jaguar Wright and Lizz Wright, as well as saxophonist Tia Fuller, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, bassists Meshell Ndegeocello and Linda Oh, and keyboardists Patrice Rushen, Rachel Z and Geri Allen.

“I’ve been doing this for 40 years, but it’s only in the last 10 years with me investing my own money to do a record that I’ve done well,” said Terri Lyne, who chuckles at the notion of her being an overnight success. She is really looking forward to playing Newport Jazz Fest, which was founded by Lynn native George Wein. The set will celebrate the life and wondrous music of her ACS Trio mate Geri Allen.

“We knew she was ill, when the three of us played Scullers in April. But she and we were optimistic that everything would turn out OK. She was so private, she kept everything under wraps. It’s still really unbelievable and surreal. I miss her very much.”

 Newport Jazz Festival, at Fort Adams State Park, Newport, RI, Aug. 4-6. For tickets and additional information, go to newportjazz.org

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