Terri Lyne Carrington on gender justice in jazz and beyond: ‘We’re moving in the right direction’

With her pedigree and level of accomplishment, Terri Lyne Carrington could be described in many ways.

She’s a drummer, composer and producer. She’s a multiple Grammy winner and an NEA Jazz Master. She’s an educator, artistic director, motivator, activist and trailblazer.

And on International Women’s Day, it’s even more noteworthy to point out the work she’s done and continues to do as the founder and artistic director of the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice and the artistic director of Next Jazz Legacy.

Carrington joined us to talk more about her initiatives in working toward gender equity in jazz and beyond.

Let’s start with the work you’re doing at the Berklee Institute. How did this come about?

It was basically the fact that I was talking to a lot of our students there who were not having the experience they had hoped for — not just at Berklee, but also in high school and at gigs and in the field in general. I actually didn’t have the same experiences as them, and my heart opened up and I realized I had to do something. If I wasn’t doing something to be part of the solution, then I was part of the problem. That’s why I started the institute. I quickly realized that our work is not just important at Berklee, but it’s important to do collective work to transform the culture. There’s a groundswell of this kind of work happening right now, which is great. I’m happy to be a part of it.

What kind of things are you putting into place? What kind of activities and work are you doing?

At the college, we have ensembles, a liberal arts class, private lessons, guest artists, performances, those sorts of things. We’re also helping to change the culture with other departments. We try not to operate in a silo. Outside of the college, we have an exciting partnership called Next Jazz Legacy, for which I’m the artistic director as well. We’ve partnered with New Music USA and we have a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to start an apprenticeship program. We had 86 applicants and we had to pick seven, which was difficult. They get a yearlong apprenticeship with a major artist, as well as creative and business mentorship, cohort learning and online classes. This is for emerging artists. That’s really exciting. We’re also working to launch an opportunity for people to go through a creative retreat. For women, self-care is often the last thing we think of — I know that first-hand.

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Do you ever think of this work you’re doing as being on a fixed timeline? Is there the idea that you’re doing this until we achieve equity, until we achieve equality?

That’s the goal! That would be great. That’s utopia, right? We don’t have to worry about racial equality or gender equality. But I’m not sure when that will happen. I would love it if our institute was not needed. We’ve seen things change over the years, and we’re in an interesting time period right now where people need to really look at their thinking, and a lot of people are challenging themselves. It doesn’t mean that the problems are solved, but it means we’re a little bit closer to something that feels like justice. With gender [equality], I’m seeing a trend right now, especially with this generation, that a lot of them are defying gender boxes in general. It gives me hope that things will change, because they’re questioning a lot more than previous generations. I think it’s moving society in a different direction. I’m not sure if that actually means justice and equity will actually happen to its fullest potential, but I think things are changing.

It feels like we’re seeing almost a level of regression in some areas, but there’s this undercurrent with a younger generation that’s more forward-thinking and open-minded. They’re looking at possibilities. Do you get that sense?

Absolutely. I have so much faith in this generation for those reasons. Because I’m from another generation, sometimes I don’t fully understand, and I have to do work myself. Nobody’s absolved of expanding themselves and their thought processes. I do think this generation can be a little fragile, too. So, there’s a balance happening — and maybe this world needs more balance. I think we’re moving in the right direction, and that’s the most important thing.

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Any other projects that you’re working on that you want to let us know about?

In September, there will be a book that I curated called New Standards with 101 lead sheets by women composers. I’m also working on an album right now, where I chose 12 of those songs to be on the record. I’m also working on an exhibit that will be at the Carr Centre in October. So, the fall is full of New Standards for me.