It seems as if each time we discuss the career, influence and importance of Terri Lyne Carrington, we are adding new accolades to an already highly celebrated life in the world of music, education and activism.
Just look at her most recent honours: This past June, she was awarded an honorary doctorate by York University. This past Sunday, she won a Grammy for best jazz instrumental album for her recording New Standards, Vol. 1. And this week, she’s the Oscar Peterson Artist in Residence at York, where she’s offering masterclasses, workshops, performances and mentorship to students.
Considering her busy schedule, we were delighted that she was able to take a few minutes to chat about her latest projects and accolades.
Congratulations on the Grammy. For a project like New Standards, does this kind of a win stand out?
Yes, absolutely. Honestly, they all stand out because it’s so competitive and when your peers recognize you, it means so much. But this one stands out because we were really trying to make a statement with the album and the book, really acknowledging women composers and women that have been left out of the canon. To have the [Recording] Academy recognize that is really special.
You received the honorary doctorate from York University back in June. At the time, you mentioned it was important to you because you had a similar connection with music education to the style with which York approaches it. What did you mean by that?
I’m not sure — I don’t remember the exact quote. But I think I’m a progressive person. I like to try to make the world that I want to live in. I feel that that is what I meant.
I recently had a chance to talk to Kris Davis, and she talked about her work with you at the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice and about the New Standards project. She talked about a level of inspiration and motivation that you offer a lot of people. Who inspired you? Did you have that role in your life?
There were a lot of people. Of course there were people that inspired me musically, but there are also people that have inspired me in other ways — people like Angela Davis, Bernice Johnson Reagon and, of course, my biggest mentors who are Wayne Shorter and Jack DeJohnette. [They’re] all very forward-thinking people who have helped shape who I am. All I’m trying to do is learn as I go and become a better person, and pass what I know on to others.
Do you feel any kind of pressure to do that, to be that mentor for other people like your mentors were for you?
I wouldn’t say I feel pressure. When you’re doing what you love and what you feel is right, it’s not a feeling of pressure. But one thing that I do feel is tired — a little exhaustion when it comes to some of these matters, because they are tiring. If you’re in groups that have been marginalized in any way, it can be a bit tiring to educate others and keep pointing to the very thing that has exhausted you. To have to keep pointing to it can be a lot sometimes. I think finding balance and spreading the joy in music is really what offsets all of that.
This interview has been edited and condensed.