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Terri Lyne Carrington has 101 reasons to celebrate women composers

Terri Lyne Carrington is the founder and artistic director of the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice.Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe

The jazz world is awash with Terri Lyne Carrington projects this fall. Friday saw the release of “Live at the Detroit Jazz Festival,” a stellar performance featuring Carrington, Wayne Shorter, Leo Genovese, and esperanza spalding, recorded at said festival over Labor Day weekend in 2017.

This week the drummer, composer, and Berklee College of Music professor celebrates two additional releases. On Thursday, Hal Leonard Corp. will publish the Carrington-curated “New Standards: 101 Lead Sheets by Women Composers,” featuring works written by 101 composers ranging across generations, from legends Lil Hardin Armstrong and Mary Lou Williams through contemporary stars such as Brandee Younger and Cécile McLorin Salvant.


On Friday, Candid Records will release “New Standards Vol. 1,” an album comprising 11 compositions from the book, as interpreted by a core band of Carrington, pianist Kris Davis, bassist Linda May Han Oh, guitarist Matthew Stevens, and Nicholas Payton on trumpet, augmented by an all-star array of guest artists.

These latter two projects will be further celebrated Oct. 13-Nov. 27 with a multimedia exhibit, “Shifting the Narrative: Jazz and Gender Justice,” at the Carr Center in Detroit, where Carrington serves as artistic director. All of this was set in motion via yet another of the many hats Carrington wears: that of artistic director of the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice, which she founded in 2018.

“Well, it was the opening of the Institute,” Carrington explains by phone. “We had an opening event on Martha’s Vineyard at [former Berklee president] Roger Brown’s home. We had two student musicians playing, and I asked them to play some songs by women composers.” The students searched ‘The Real Book’ [a Hal Leonard book of lead sheets for student musicians], but … came up empty.

“So that’s when I decided this needs to be our first initiative — trying to create some alternatives to what people can find in ‘The Real Book.’ ”


Carrington cast a wide net in gathering songs and composers for the project, reaching out to composers she wanted in the book and to friends for recommendations of composers she might not have thought of. She wanted a mix of songs students might be able to tackle in high school as well as pieces that could challenge professionals, and pieces varying stylistically as well. This all yielded a wealth of compositions to choose from.

“I mean, we could do 100 of these books,” Carrington notes. “If you just took the people in the book alone, they all have a lot of material. And then there were a lot of women composers who weren’t included because we had to stop somewhere.”

One piece she made sure to include was by her late friend, the great pianist and composer Geri Allen.

“With Geri Allen, ‘Unconditional Love’ has been recorded at least three times. I did it. Dianne Reeves did it. Geri did it,” Carrington explains. “What’s funny is that when we had that trio with esperanza and Geri, every night when we played that song, I said, ‘This is my goal — to make this a standard.’ ”

From left: The late Geri Allen, Terri Lyne Carrington, and esperanza spalding.Courtesy of Terri Lyne Carrington

That one didn’t make it onto the “New Standards, Vol. 1” album. But another written by an iconic figure, Abbey Lincoln’s “Throw It Away,” did. It’s one of three pieces that stand out on the album for their embodiment of a quality common to so many standards: simple but powerful melodies with a way of lodging in listeners’ brains.


Melanie Charles and Somi share vocals on “Throw It Away,” with Nȇgah Santos of Jon Batiste’s Stay Human band on percussion, recasting the tune with an intro that conjures a jungle village to enhance to the magic cited in Lincoln’s lyrics. Eliane Elias’s “Moments” includes Dianne Reeves singing and a bold arrangement, with a sax intro by Ravi Coltrane. Michael Mayo sings Gretchen Parlato’s “Circling,” his masculine voice replacing her own signature breathiness. All this is as it should be: Standards are meant to be reinterpreted.

“Exactly,” confirms Carrington. “You hit the nail on the head. That’s why I made sure I arranged everything at least a little bit different than it originally was.”

In the case of Carla Bley’s “Lawns,” Carrington herself penned new lyrics, sung in this case by rising star Samara Joy. Coltrane takes a resplendent solo on tenor sax as well. When Carrington wrote words for “Lawns,” she didn’t realize that Kurt Elling had already done so. But her version, titled “Two Hearts (Lawns)” on the album, stuck closer to the original music and the theme of a couple looking back at their lives that’s conveyed in an emotionally charged YouTube video featuring Bley herself performing the song as a duet with her life partner, Steve Swallow.

Carrington didn’t add lyrics to Anat Cohen’s “Ima,” Hebrew for “mother,” allowing the song’s haunting, melancholic melody to convey the song’s emotion. It is played in succession by Julian Lage on guitar, Kris Davis (better know for abstract adventurism, but playing this tune straight and with exquisite touch), and Veronica Leahy — from a three-member wood ensemble directed by Edmar Colón — on bass clarinet, that last touch a subtle but fitting tribute to the song’s clarinetist composer.


“I hate to pick favorites,” Carrington says. “But ‘Lawns,’ Samara — It’s just the matching of the song being so beautiful itself, and Samara’s performance. That’s for me a standout for sure. She really sang so beautifully.”

Other pieces on the album are more about freedom and adventure than simple melodies, and Carrington loves them, too. Two that come up in that vein are “Continental Cliff,” by Carrington’s Berklee colleague Patricia Zárate Pérez, and Marilyn Crispell’s “Rounds,” the latter recorded live.

Another that Carrington mentions is the Parlato tune. “I really like how ‘Circling’ came out,” she says “I put a lot of work into arranging that. With Gretchen’s music, a lot of people know it and like it, so it was important for me to do it different. Because if somebody wanted to hear that version, they could just stream her.”

That “Vol. 1″ in this album’s title is not accidental. Carrington would like to see all 101 pieces recorded on subsequent albums, for which she wouldn’t necessarily be the leader.

She is also hopeful that that Detroit exhibit will eventually make its way to Boston, bringing its mix of live music, discussions, visual artwork by the likes of Salvant, Carmen Lundy, and Jazzmeia Horn, and culinary artistry by Lizz Wright, who aside from being a top-notch vocalist oversees the menu at Carver 47 on Chicago’s South Side.


The exhibit, says Carrington, “is built to travel.”