Terri Lyne Carrington Makes A Musical 'Mosaic,' With A Focus On Women

Aug 2, 2015
Originally published on August 2, 2015 6:37 pm

Percussionist Terri Lyne Carrington's resume is impressive. She trained with Stan Getz and Pharoah Sanders; she's won Grammy Awards; she's collaborated with superstars like Wayne Shorter and Esperanza Spalding; and — maybe her most high-profile gig — she was the drummer for The Arsenio Hall Show.

Lately, Carrington's been working on something called The Mosaic Project. Her first iteration of the project, back in 2011, featured female jazz singers backed by an all-woman band. That album won a Grammy.

The second installment, subtitled Love and Soul, comes out Aug. 7, and while it includes another all-star group of female musicians, she says it has a "different flavor" and a stronger R&B influence. The star-studded list of featured performers includes Valerie Simpson, Nancy Wilson, Lizz Wright — and, on the song "I'm a Fool to Want You," Chaka Khan.

"I wrote that arrangement with Chaka in mind," she says. "I was a little nervous to send it to her, because I thought she might be too busy, and I didn't have a lot of money, and all those things." Khan ended up agreeing, and the recording came together at just the right time: Frank Sinatra who co-wrote the song, and Billie Holiday, who performed one of the best-known versions, would both have been 100 this year.

Hear the rest of Carrington's conversation with NPR's Arun Rath, as well as music from The Mosaic Project: Love and Soul, at the audio link.

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

Percussionist and composer Terri Lyne Carrington's resume is pretty amazing - cutting her teeth with the likes of Stan Getz and Pharaoh Sanders, Grammy awards in both instrumental and vocal categories, projects with superstars from Angelique Kidjo to Esperanza Spalding. I first caught her as the drummer on the old "Arsenio Hall Show." Lately, Terri Lyne Carrington's been working on something called "The Mosaic Project."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOUL TALK")

TERRI LYNE CARRINGTON: (Singing) You and I - on the rhythm we will ride, dreamin' of nothing else. Just listen to your soul talk.

RATH: Her first offering, back in 2011, featured an all-woman band supporting all-woman jazz singers - in this case, Dee Dee Bridgewater. Fast forward to 2015.

CARRINGTON: And this time, it leans a little more R and B or R-and-B-meets-jazz, in my perspective. And it features a lot of amazing female singers - Ledisi, Lalah Hathaway, Chaka Khan, Natalie Cole. And it's a different take on "The Mosaic Project," so they both have very different flavors.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COME SUNDAY"

CARRINGTON AND COLE: (Singing) You give peace and comfort to every troubled mind. Come Sunday - oh, come Sunday - that's the day. Yeah.

RATH: There were some great all-women bands in the early days of jazz, but they tended to get marketed as novelty acts. And you look at these last couple of records from you and realize that it's just no sweat to assemble an all-woman band, and they're all superstars.

CARRINGTON: Well, I wouldn't say it's no sweat.

(LAUGHTER)

CARRINGTON: Yeah, but put yourself in my shoes. This record took a year and four months or so to make. You know, honestly, there are so many great female musicians instrumentalists and vocalists, of course, but there's still less to choose from than if I were to make a CD with male musicians. But it was worth it, you know, to me to go the distance and really, you know, find the women that could teeter between jazz and R and B the way that I needed it to be for this CD.

RATH: You did that really nicely on the - it's a song - I usually think about Billie Holiday - "I'm A Fool To Want You" - but Chaka Khan does it - does it beautifully.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M A FOOL TO WANT YOU")

CHAKA KHAN: (Singing) I'm a fool to want you, to want a love that can't be true, a love that's there for others, too. I'm a fool to want you.

CARRINGTON: I actually wrote that arrangement with Chaka in mind. I was a little nervous, you know, to send it to her because I, you know - I thought she might be too busy, and, you know, I didn't have a lot of money and all of those things. But she heard it and liked it. I'd also been reading a book on Frank Sinatra, and he actually wrote that song along with a couple of other guys. I was surprised to know that he wrote that, and I associated it with Billie Holiday, as well. So part of it is also, you know, tribute to both of them because it's their centennial this year.

RATH: We have the wonderful Valerie Simpson here. It still feels weird not to say Ashford and Simpson. It's hard to believe, in a way, that Nick Ashford is gone. I know it's been a few years. But that song "Somebody Told A Lie" - what was it like for her returning to that music with you?

CARRINGTON: She says she was shocked when she first heard it because it's so different than the original. But Valerie's a great musician, and she really, I think, appreciates when somebody takes something that exists and changes it in a way that still respects the song. But, you know, I really put a completely different spin on it. You know, I have - I go into seven-four at some points, and I changed it to the relative minor - the chorus. So - but she liked it, and she sang great on it.

RATH: Made things tricky for your singers.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOMEBODY TOLD A LIE")

VALERIE SIMPSON: (Singing) You're walking down the wrong street 'cause I found it, yeah, and it's deep inside.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Hey, listen. Want to take you there. Want to take you there in my arms, babe.

BILLY DEE WILLIAMS: Yeah, women have always been very much a part of my life. And I don't just from a sexual point of view, but...

RATH: You also have on "Somebody Told A Lie" and another track on this album Billy Dee Williams.

BILLY DEE WILLIAMS: I got involved with Carl Jung - Carl G. Jung - and he coined a phrase called the anima animus. And the anima is the female counterpart of the male self. The animus is the male counterpart of the female self. So...

RATH: Were those his own thoughts about Carl Jung and the feminine spirit?

CARRINGTON: Yes. I went to his house, and, you know, I interviewed him, basically. He started talking about Carl Jung, and I thought that that was a great intro to "Somebody Told A Lie." But the interesting thing about Billy Dee's participation is he had asked me if he could be on the CD. And I said, well, it's an all-female CD, and he said, well, what better male is there to be on an all-female CD other than me? So I had to agree with him.

RATH: 'Cause, as he says, he's in touch with his feminine side.

CARRINGTON: Yes, and, of course, you know, he was such a sex symbol for so long.

RATH: (Laughter) I think he's still a sex symbol, isn't he?

CARRINGTON: Well, he is. I didn't mean to put him in the past.

(LAUGHTER)

CARRINGTON: Yes, once a sex symbol, always a sex symbol.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOMEBODY TOLD A LIE")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Somebody told a lie...

RATH: That's Terri Lyne Carrington, drummer and composer. Her new album is called "The Mosaic Project: Love And Soul." Great speaking with you. Thank you.

CARRINGTON: Oh, thank you very much for having me. My pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOMEBODY TOLD A LIE")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) ...Says I

RATH: Before we go this weekend, another sad farewell to someone who's made this program what it is - our executive producer, Steve Lickteig. Don't let the executive title mislead you. Steve doesn't operate at a thousand feet. He does manage everything involving getting us on the air every weekend, and that's amazing. But I think Steve's special legacy for NPR is the talent he's cultivated and nurtured - the producers who he's given the freedom to do such great work. I'm certain that energy is why this show keeps adding new listeners.

Steve served in the Marine Corps, but he's no drill sergeant. I don't think I've ever heard the guy raise his voice in anger or frustration, which for someone running a live news broadcast is almost unthinkable. Steve is going to be working on some podcasts and making documentaries on film. It's not fair, but he's really great at that, too. Steve, for everyone who's worked on this show, we will miss you more than you know, and NPR won't be the same without you. And for Sunday, that's it for ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. We're back next weekend. Have a great week. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.