The idea of the “child star” conjures up a dual image. On the one hand you have to admire the talent it took to become a star. On the other hand you tend to believe that the kid must have had “all the breaks” and led a real pampered and catered-to existence. At 17, Terri Lyne Carrington has been playing drums for 10 years with the likes of Clark Terry, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Illinois Jacquet, Kenny Barron, Buster Williams, Oscar Peterson and more. When you’re onstage with those musicians, you don’t just “get by.” You either play or you get blown off the stage!
Terri Lyne came into the MD office several months ago to be interviewed. She seemed cautious and I was wondering what in the world I was going to ask her. So we just let the tape roll and sipped hot coffee. We both relaxed into a very revealing, candid and educational interview. Terri Lyne is not kidding around. She knows where she’s going and she’s self-assured about getting there. I’m sure she will.
SF: What did you do to put yourself so far ahead of most 17- year-old drummers?
TLC: I started at an early age, lucky enough to have parents who were very supportive. I listened. At five years old I was hearing music constantly. I heard it since I was born and took a liking to it. My father played me the kind of music that I would understand. I first started off with James Brown, Ben Branch, Jimmy McGriff, Jimmy Smith, B.B. King, and that kind of music. I liked it as a child. That’s the first music where I played to the records. It just kept developing on from there.
SF: Were the kids you hung out with musicians?
TLC: Not too many of my friends are interested in jazz music like that. It’s a separate life for me. As far as the business goes, I’m always around older musicians and I’ve adapted to that. When I’m with my friends, it’s different.
SF: When I was 17, the people I was in bands with were all my age. The people you’re playing with are in their 30’s, 40’s…
TLC: And older. Old enough to be my father, and grandfather in some cases! But, I didn’t really even have a high school band that I could play with. I went through high school and half the people didn’t even know I played. They had a marching band that wasn’t very good. I didn’t even want to bother with that. I was at a different level. I really didn’t want to go backwards. I just went up to Berklee College of Music once a week.
SF: Why did you choose drums?
TLC: Some people say that it was because my grandfather played the drums. His name was Mat Carrington. He played with people like Chu Berry, Fats Waller, Duke Ellington occasionally, and “Baby” Dodds. My father also played drums a little bit. He plays tenor saxophone. So, I started out on alto when I was five and then I lost my two front teeth. So, I couldn’t play alto anymore. My grandfather’s drums were in our basement. I asked my father to set them up one day after I lost my teeth. I just started hitting on them and never stopped. I guess he thought it was a drag to bother setting the drums up because of the noise. He didn’t really expect anything. As a matter of fact, when I was born, he wanted a son to continue in music. So, when I was a girl, I guess he figured…
SF: Oh no!
TLC: Yeah. When I started playing saxophone, I had an ear for music. I started playing riffs and I would bend the notes to be in tune. When I switched to drums, I could keep time immediately after I picked up the sticks.
SF: Playing along with records?
TLC: Yeah. My father showed me how to hold the sticks and the basics when I was seven. Then I went on to a beginner’s teacher, John Willen. Then to Keith Copeland, who is probably one of my biggest influences. He had the patience to deal with a youngster. I was about 10 or 11.
SF: Were you into drum lessons at that time or was it a drag?
TLC: I enjoyed it. But to develop somebody at such a young age takes patience. Keith really developed me. Then I studied with Tony Tedesco who brought my reading together. The technical aspect of drums. The polishing of it all was Alan Dawson, who was my last teacher. I started studying vibes with him a couple of months ago. Now I’m going to attend Berklee, to see what they have to offer. Alan Dawson is one of the greatest teachers and drummers in the world. He’s a monster. I would highly suggest to anybody who wants to clean themselves up and get all their frustrations out, that Alan will get all their frustrations out. He’ll give you all the mechanics to work with. If you have the talent it’ll be able to come out more. He’s really a great teacher and person.
SF: How long did you study drums with Alan?
TLC: Two or two-and-a-half years.
SF: How had you changed after that time?
TLC: I was thinking much more musically in my soloing. He’s a stickler on the form in tunes and knowing the music. Not just playing the drums, but knowing everything that’s going down on the stage. That really helped me out. I played in form but not as musical, so you can hear the song through the drum solo. Also, he developed my chops more. He made them cleaner and more relaxed. He’s a “polisher” teacher. I wouldn’t suggest people go to him who aren’t already on a certain level, where they can take what he’s going to give you and do what they want with it. I wouldn’t say he’s a beginner’s teacher at all. He’s a person you go to after you know what you want to do, but you’re having a little trouble getting it out.
SF: How would you suggest a drummer learn song forms?
TLC: You have to know the tunes. Piano players and horn players all know the changes and the tunes. But, sometimes drummers don’t have to know all that. So, it’s important to listen and know all the tunes and the melodies. Hum them in your head while you’re playing or soloing.
SF: Did you go through a time where you memorized songs?
TLC: Right. Not note for note. For instance, Alan would have you hum a song and have you read and switch 8ths while you’re reading out of Stick Control or something. Then you’d have to hum the song out loud and solo while you’re singing the song. That lets him know that you know the song. You’re thinking more musically. That’s one way to do it. Solo and hum the tunes out loud. And know tunes. Pick up a fake book. If you see a tune that you don’t know—learn it!
SF: Or buy records and do a lot of studying?
TLC: Right. Also, listen to musical drummers like Max Roach.
SF: The way Max plays is deceiving. If you’ve been used to listening to the Buddy Rich school of drumming, what Max does sounds simple, until you try to play that way.
TLC: What Max does is harder. He plays so much more musical instead of just a lot of chops or playing around the drums. I think a lot of drummers don’t really try to make melodies out of the drums. They try to see how fast they can go and loud and strong. But, Max gets songs out of the drums. He’s the only drummer I know who does it that well.
SF: How did you get in a position to meet all the great musicians you’ve been with?
TLC: I live in Boston and there were some good clubs about seven years ago: The Jazz Workshop, Paul’s Mall, Sandy’s Jazz Revival, Lulu White’s, Tinkers, The Lion’s Club. All those clubs brought in the prestigious jazz people that were around. I would just go and see them. My father knows a lot of musicians, so he would introduce me to them and tell them that I was playing. They just asked me to sit in sometimes. I was fortunate enough to be around at the right time. They were intrigued, I guess, to see what I could do because I was so young.
SF: Wasn’t Rahsaan Roland Kirk the first person you sat in with?
TLC: Right. When I was five I sat in with him. I sang and shook the tambourine on “Volunteered Slavery.”
SF: Who was the first person you sat in with on drumset?
TLC: Probably Rahsaan or Clark Terry. I don’t think Clark was the first, but he was one of the first. Rahsaan came to town a lot. I sat in with Clark when I was 10 years old. He took me to Witchita, Kansas to do the Witchita Jazz Festival. This was Clark Terry’s East Coast/West Coast Jazz Giants which consisted of Louie Bellson on drums, Jimmy Rowles on piano, George Duvivier on bass, Garnett Brown on trombone, Al Cohn on tenor sax and Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis on tenor sax.
SF: Did you sit in on Louie’s drums?
TLC: Yeah, that was an experience. Ten years old? To tackle Louie Bellson’s drums? Double bass drums?
SF: Could your feet reach the pedals?
TLC: Yeah, but I had to sit on the end of the seat. They reached—but just barely. But, that was always something that I had on my side. I could always adapt to other people’s drums very easily.
SF: When you’re five years old, how do you adapt to the size of a professional size drumset?
TLC: Well, I didn’t start playing drums until I was seven, but that’s pretty small, right? The first set I had was my grandfather’s old set with a 28″ bass drum. The bass drum was bigger than I was! But, I figured out a way. I’d lean against the seat instead of actually sitting on it. But, playing Louie Bellson’s drums was an experience. I don’t think people could really see me. The set was covering me up because I was so small.
Also, Illinois Jacquet was an early influence. My three earliest influences, as far as encouragement, were Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Illinois and my Dad. All those people played horn and that’s what I wanted to play. One night after hearing Illinois, I said, “I want to play the saxophone.” Those three really made me interested in music.
SF: Did those people help you with life philosophies?
TLC: In later years. I can’t really remember the conversations we had when I was five or six years old. But, in later years a bunch of musicians talked about all kinds of stuff. Very encouraging. They’d tell me things to keep me going.
SF: How is it going to be at Berklee? People attend Berklee to get to where you already are professionally.
TLC: I’m not going to Berklee to learn how to play the drums. I’m going for writing, arranging and all the technicalities that I don’t have together. I’ve had piano lessons, but I haven’t put the time into the piano that I have on the drums. I started studying vibes with Alan. I’m going to Berklee to try to get that together because I want to be able to play a melodic instrument so I can write. Eventually I want to create a style of my own in writing too.
SF: Do you have goals set for yourself?
TLC: Well, for the next four years I’m going to be in school. I want to get a degree. I just want to get up some playing experience during summers, weekends, vacations, school or whatever. I want to get experience that I don’t have. After that four years I want to eventually have my own group and follow in the lines of Art Blakey, Elvin Jones and Max. Art Blakey has The Jazz Messengers. Roy Haynes has The Hip Ensemble.
SF: What about the band on your record? George Coleman on tenor, Buster Williams on bass and Kenny Barron on piano?
TLC: That’s not my band. I play a lot with Kenny and Buster when I get gigs.
SF: How did you line up those musicians?
TLC: They hadn’t even heard me the first time I played with them. They were playing with Ron Carter and I would go see them. I really loved Kenny and Buster’s playing. And Ben Riley! Phew! I got a gig at Sandy’s Jazz Revival in Boston to bring in whoever I wanted. I asked my father if I could use them. He called them up and asked them if they would come. They said, “Sure.” Then he called Frank Foster. At the time I was 14.
SF: They didn’t give your father a hard time?
TLC: It was a good gig. I was real excited and I wanted to get good musicians.
SF: That’s amazing. Your Dad makes a phone call to three of the best jazz musicians in the world, says, ‘Hi, my 14-year-old.
TLC: They knew that I was playing. It’s not like I called them up cold. I don’t know why they came! I don’t know why a lot of people asked me to sit in. But, it happened and I’m very grateful. “Youth” had a lot to do with why I wasn’t afraid of asking or of doing things. When you’re young, you don’t know.
SF: You never felt intimidated by those musicians?
TLC: Not really. Now I start to feel more intimidated than before. Those are a bunch of great guys. I think I was lucky to have so many friends in the business. These people aren’t just good musicians that I play with—they’re friends too. And I really have the utmost respect for them.
I went to Chicago last May and played at Governor State University with Kenny and Buster. That was the first time I traveled to play without my parents. It was nice. We did a concert and then we did some clinics.
SF: What kind of audience usually attends your clinics?
TLC: When they set up clinics they try to capitalize on my age and try to get younger people interested. A lot of my clinics are at high schools. I’ve done some college clinics too. I like doing clinics.
SF: What areas do you cover?
TLC: It depends on what the audience wants. I ask the audience to ask questions, and a lot of times, when you have a young audience, they don’t want to ask questions. They’re afraid to or whatever. The younger the audience, the harder it is. It’s hard for them to relate sometimes and be open enough to ask questions. I ask them to come up and play and they don’t want to. But, I cover rudiments and rituals tor beginners. I read a little from books and show different concepts that Alan has shown me. I demonstrate some funk, different Latin beats, jazz. I ask them what they want me to do.
SF: How did you like high school?
TLC: To be perfectly honest, since the first day of freshman year, I couldn’t wait to get out. I wanted to be around music and musicians. In my high school the average student was into rock and punk rock. That wasn’t me. I just wanted to be away from it. I graduated in three years instead of four. I doubled up on my classes just to get out. I’m glad I did.
I’m glad I went through it though because it was a good academic school. I was in the top of the class. I was in accelerated programs. That’s another reason why I could get out early. I was an “A” student. See, whatever I do, I like to give it my best. I didn’t love school. A lot of people say, “Wow! She gets all ‘A’s. She must be in the books all the time.” That wasn’t it. I just always wanted to do my best in whatever I did. I didn’t like going home and doing homework, but I made myself do the minimum that I could to get what I wanted to get. I could’ve put more into it and gotten more out of it. But, I got the grades.
SF: Where did you learn to discipline yourself like that?
TLC: I don’t know. It’s just in me, I guess. It’s not really a discipline, it’s just a desire to be the best. Not the best. I’d settle for top ten!
SF: Do you feel part of that came from your parents?
TLC: Yes. They want to do the best at what they do too. I think most people should want to do their best. People who work want to do the best at their job so they’ll get a promotion or money. It’s the same with whatever else you do. Give it your all.
SF: Did you get criticism from your peers because you were becoming a successful player?
TLC: Nobody tried to drag me down. Whatever I got was encouragement, but a lot of the people didn’t know what I was into at school and in my day-to-day life. I didn’t talk about it that much or dwell on it. They encouraged me whenever they did talk about it because it wasn’t anything that they had to get jealous of. Half the people—they didn’t think of it anyway. “Jazz? Drums?”
SF: Who would you go to then in times of frustration or insecurity for heart-to-heart talks?
TLC: My father and mother. All my conversations in that area have been with them. There are a few students over at Berklee that I can talk to. But my father and mother understand me better than anybody else.
SF: How did your album come about?
TLC: We wanted a better form of publicity for me to get job It’s not as professional to send a tape to somebody. We recorded it at Jimmy Madison’s studio. Through our corporation, Carrington Enterprises, we pressed 500 copies and they’re all gone. A lot of people want the record now.
SF: Are you going to press more copies?
TLC: I don’t know. We’re waiting hope fully for a company to pick it up before that. We’re not really selling them—we’re giving most of them away. It costs a lot to press them. It was a good experience.
SF: How long did it take to record?
TLC: Three hours. No rehearsal. We went in cold, rehearsed the tunes and played them. It was three hours including rehearsal and playing. We didn’t even really rehearse it. First we’d just play a dry run. Each tune we played twice and a few tunes we only played once.
SF: Who picked the tunes?
TLC: I did.
SF: Were there charts written out?
TLC: No. Whatever little arranging there was to be done I’d do verbally. The tunes were, “What Is This Thing Called Love,” “Seven Steps To Heaven,” “La Bonita”— which is my tune—”Sunny Moon For Two,” “St. Thomas” and “Just The Way You Are.” In a way, I wish I could do it again to make it better.
SF: Have you recorded with any other bands?
TLC: No. I’d like to do some recording, but I have to get the calls! But, things are going along pretty fast. I like the pace it’s going at. A lot of people are so big at such a young age that when they get to be 30 or 40 it’s like they have no place to go.
SF: Do you keep thinking of new things to do?
TLC: For a long-term goal I’d like to be a millionaire.
SF: Who taught you goal setting?
TLC: I don’t think anybody has to teach you goal setting. Anybody who’s in this business, if they don’t set goals, they might as well get out. You have to set goals or you’ll stay on a plateau. You work towards something. I think goals are important to keep a person going. They make you better.
I think the greatest musicians, the guys who are in their 60’s today, when they were 20 they weren’t sounding the way they are today. They had to improve all those years. Years of experience and hard work. They had to improve. I think that’s important too.
SF: What’s your general practice routine?
TLC: When I started practicing, nobody pushed me. I mostly wanted to play with the records. That’s what I really liked to do. When I started taking formal lessons I practiced whatever the lesson was for 45 minutes or an hour.
SF: You never did eight hours a day?
TLC: I never have. I don’t think I could to this day. Maybe when I go to Berklee my mind will change, but I don’t think I could do anything for eight hours. I would get too bored doing one thing that long. Now, I could maybe play with a group for that period of time. But doing something like that for eight hours in a room by myself—I don’t have that kind of attention span. For two or three hours? Yes. But, eight hours? No. I know a lot of people who do that. If somebody practices for eight hours a day, they should be a monster. If they’re not and they have to practice that long, that ought to tell them that it’s not natural.
SF: Do you think there’s such a thing as a “natural” drummer?
TLC: Yes! I think it has to be pretty natural for any musician. It has to be there. People can work at it, and play at instruments for years. I know plenty of people who practice and practice two or three times as much as me and they don’t even improve from year to year. I don’t understand it. The only thing that tells me is that it can’t be natural. And there are so many naturally talented people who don’t know they’re talented who don’t practice at all. It goes both ways.
SF: I wonder if people reading about you think that you must always be locked away woodshedding somewhere.
TLC: That’s not true at all. I know people who think I need to lock myself away a little more than I do!
SF: Who are some of the drummers you love to listen to?
TLC: I don’t have any favorite drummers. I’m probably the only person in the world who doesn’t. I don’t see how people can pick one favorite drummer. I admire everybody. Everybody who’s on records—they had to do something to get there, right? They have something to offer. So many drummers have so much to offer. I love Elvin Jones, Art Blakey, Max Roach, Roy Haynes, Philly Joe Jones, Papa Jo Jones, Buddy Rich—there are just so many. I love people who aren’t so well known, like Ben Riley, Billy Hart, Louis Hayes, Billy Higgins. As good as those musicians are—how can you pick a favorite? I can’t do it. There are so many talented people and they each have something different to offer. I try to take a page from everybody’s book.
SF: Do you have a record collection at home?
TLC: Not a personal record collection, but my father does. He has at least 2000 records. My father has everything from Elvin Jones, Jazz At The Philharmonic in the ’40s to today’s pop rock. He has contemporary music, but he doesn’t get into rock at all. I don’t either, really. I listen to it on the radio. I’m talking about hard rock. I can appreciate it. I can appreciate what everybody does, but he doesn’t buy those records. My father has such a tremendous record collection that I don’t need to buy any. When I move out, then maybe I’ll have to start thinking about that.
SF: One of the greatest advantages you have is the knowledge of the whole span of jazz.
TLC: Well, his records are like a library. He’s got so many records that I still have never heard.
SF: Were there any favorite albums that you liked to listen to?
TLC: I remember my little portable record player—a little kid’s record player—and I would play—over and over again—the Fifth Dimension’s “Aquarius.”
SF: Would you join a rock band?
TLC: I think I’d do a gig or two here and there. But, I would never go on the road for months with them.
SF: You mean if you had the opportunity to join Earth, Wind & Fire you wouldn’t do it?
TLC: Not for any long period of time. I love the music. I love to listen to it and I love to dance to it. I love to sing with it. But, playing it is a different story. Earth, Wind & Fire is probably my favorite funk group, but the drums for those kind of songs is so simple. You run into the same beat over and over. A drummer has to keep time for them strictly. How many times does a drummer get a solo? I like bebop.
SF: I often get letters from readers your age asking the question: “How am I going to make a living as a drummer?” Does that question ever enter your mind?
TLC: I hope I establish myself—between now and the time that I have to pay bills—while I’m in college, so that I’ll be able to work. That’s what I plan on doing.
SF: Do you read books or do anything to keep yourself motivated and thinking positively?
TLC: No. I don’t think it’s that much out of the ordinary. I think most people try to think positive and have aspirations.
SF: You have the rare combination of being able to back that up with action—going out and doing it. There are few people who are willing to put the action behind the dream.
TLC: That’s true. Remember when I was telling you about my teachers Keith and Alan? I’d like to add Lenny Nelson. He’s really a talented person and a really talented drummer. There are not a lot of people who can even play some of the stuff he plays. He came over and gave me a few lessons too. One other thing about influences: I think there was a stage when I would listen to people for a few months, then put them away and listen to somebody else. I listened to Elvin Jones and Art Blakey. Those two people were the ones I listened to most.
SF: What did you like about Elvin?
TLC: Elvin’s whole total concept. Nobody else plays like that. It was the hipness. Especially when I was younger and trying to get hipper; trying to get away from playing ding-ding-da-ding. I had to listen to Elvin to open my ears up. It worked! I never tried to play like him. What happens is, I’ll listen to somebody, and then subconsciously I’ll start doing little things and adapting their feel. That happens a lot when I sit in. I’d sit in with a lot of people, and a lot of times—I don’t know why—I’d start playing with the same feel as their drummer was playing, because I’d heard him all night. I’d always sit in at the end of the night.
Recently I sat in with Dexter Gordon in Massachusetts and his drummer was Eddie Gladden. He had a certain style. I sat in with Dexter and I know that I was adapting Eddie’s feel, which I normally don’t do. So, when I listened to Elvin I’d sit down and try to adapt his feel. You can’t copy somebody like that.
SF: What did you like about Art Blakey?
TLC: I associate Art Blakey with thunder. He’s just such a thunderous drummer. I loved it and I still love it. His buzz roll is incredible. There’s no other drummer now who can play the buzz roll like that. I don’t care who it is. One day I’d just like to have the power behind my buzz roll that he has. He pushes the band. He’s a driver. Like my father explained to me: Art Blakey’s a driver like a powerful train. The train is moving. When Art Blakey plays it’s like he’s pushing the train.
SF: You used to go into clubs with your Dad a lot?
TLC: Yeah, and he’d analyze things for me when I was younger, until I got a mind of my own and started to get my own opinion. My father’s very knowledgeable as far as music. I was fortunate for him wanting to do it for me. So many people’s parents don’t give their kids any instruction or encouragement. I honestly don’t think I’d be playing today if it wasn’t for my parents. It’s like I was born to the right parents.
SF: How do you balance your social life with your career?
TLC: Well, I date occasionally. I have plenty of friends, plenty of male friends. It’s not hard for me to balance the two. I think you have to live first. Enjoy yourself and enjoy life. Music is a definite part of your enjoyment of life, but there are other things too. So, you don’t become narrow minded. Develop to a well-rounded person. I feel I’m pretty well-rounded.
SF: Do you think in terms of having a family or are you still too young for that?
TLC: I don’t really think much about that. I feel I want to get married, but I don’t think of kids. Did you know I got a scholarship to Berklee? Back in 1977 or ’78 Oscar Peterson was playing at the Boston Globe Jazz Festival. I was talking to him after the concert was over. I said, “Clark Terry told me to tell you hello. I played with him last night.” He said, “What? You played with him?” I said, “I played drums. I played two sets because the drummer didn’t show up on time.” This was when I was 11 or 12 years old. Oscar says, “Keter Betts! Leave your bass up.” He asked me to play one tune because he just wanted to hear me, I guess. It was at the end of the festival and people were still walking out. They saw Oscar come out and people ran back. About half the people were gone. Luckily, the President of Berklee was there. We played a blues. So, he offered me a four-year, full scholarship to Berklee when I was 11. I was taking private lessons at the time with Keith Copeland.
I sat in with Buddy Rich’s big band three or four times. He was responsible for me getting endorsements from Zildjian. Then Zildjian talked to Slingerland. They were in the club when Buddy was playing. They go to support the artist. Buddy Rich asked me to sit in. I was scared to death! I was about 12. We played “Chicago.” The next thing I knew I was getting an endorsement from Zildjian. A lot of people have said a lot of derogatory things about Buddy, but he’s been nothing but nice to me. He’s a hell of a guy. I love Buddy Rich. He brought me on the To Tell The Truth show. He came on and played a little three minute drum solo. They had me and two other girls. They said, “Will the real one please stand up?” And Buddy Rich came over and stood me up.
SF: What do you see as the drummer’s role in a band?
TLC: The main function is to keep time and also to enhance everybody else; to accompany all the other musicians. A drummer is an accompanist. Of course, you have drummers who are leaders. Art Blakey, one of the biggest drummer/leaders— look how well he accompanies all the band members. That’s what makes him so great. That’s one of the first and foremost things for a drummer. Accompany the others and know what not to play. To not be overbearing. Blend in and keep the time. Make the music swing, if that’s what you’re playing.
SF: Do you think a person can learn how to swing or do you think that’s another natural gift?
TLC: No. I think you have to feel it; not learn it. Swing is to be felt.
SF: Have you done much work backing up singers?
TLC: Not for a whole gig. I’ve sat in with a bunch of different singers: Joe Williams, Betty Carter, Helen Humes, John Hendricks.
SF: Have any of these great musicians given you “truths” that you carry with you?
TLC: Well, they’ve all given me spot things. Even to this day. Things like accompanying a bass solo. How to lay back. A lot of bassists have told me never to lay out. Always have something going in the background during a bass solo. Sometimes the drummer will lay out totally and let the bass just go. Buster Williams said, “Don’t do that. Always keep something to go by.” I’ve gotten a lot of advice but nothing that’s dwelt in my mind. I remember once when I was playing with Clark Terry when I was 11. He said, “Okay, we’re going to play a shuffle.” I said, “What’s a shuffle?” He explained it to me and I played it. I knew what it was, I just didn’t know the name.
SF: Have you ever messed up on stage?
TLC: Plenty of times. Once I sat in with Dizzy Gillespie and played “Scrapple From The Apple.” I didn’t know the song! I was about 11 or 12. He does a certain thing with the beginning where the bass player plays the melody. When the bass was playing, it sounded like funk to me. I was confused. So when the melody time came I started playing a funk beat. Then I realized, “I think this is supposed to swing.” After that I was alright.
SF: Did that incident get you down?
TLC: Yeah! I was so upset.
SF: How did you get over it?
TLC: By another good experience that would come later. That made up for it. Little things bother me. Within the past three years or so I play the form to tunes no matter what I play. Unless it’s a tune I don’t know and I mess up the form. A lot of times I’ll play the melody outright and the band members still don’t come in on time! And it blows my mind! It bothers me because I know that I’ve worked hard to stick to the form and play musical. Why couldn’t they follow it and come in on time?
Another thing that bothers me is that a lot of drummers—even some of the best drummers—don’t play form anymore.
SF: Can you give me an example?
TLC: Elvin Jones.
SF: Well, we both know that Elvin has the ability to play the song form in a solo. What about a drummer’s license to play a free-form solo?
TLC: Oh no, it’s not bad. I don’t see why drummers would do that all the time. Every solo they take? No form? Why would do you that? It’s different with the great drummers like Elvin. You know that he can do it, and they do do it sometimes. But, there are a lot of young drummers I’ve heard that are students, who will be playing a tune, then they start soloing and don’t think the first thing about form. They start changing the tempo and everything. They’ll start playing funk in the middle of a jazz tune. That’s good for coloring sometimes. But, not a whole fusion solo in the middle of “Night In Tunisia.” I see that happen all the time. It just bothers me.
SF: Maybe that’s because many drummers have an overbalance of rhythmical training and not enough melodic training.
TLC: Alan Dawson never takes a solo free form. He’s such a fantastic guy and I think he’s so underrated. A lot of people just don’t know him. I’d suggest young drummers learn music and form. It takes away from the music and the song if you go out on a whole other plane. It bothers me if somebody can’t play within the realm of the song. I guess that’s been drilled into my mind from Alan. But, the great musical drummers who don’t do it—that’s different. They’ve already proven themselves. They don’t have to prove anything. Young people don’t feel like playing form because they want to make it a big drum show. A drummer said to me once, “You know what I’d just love to do? I want to study with Louis Bellson or Buddy Rich because I want to learn how to just take a monstrous drum solo!” And that’s all he cared about. I said, “Well, what about the other things that are important?” He said, “Well, if I can do that, then I’m not even worried about the other things.” I didn’t even waste any more time talking to him. I know a lot of drummers who feel that way.
SF: Are there any people you’d like to meet that you haven’t met yet?
TLC: On the jazz side I’ve met them all. I’d like to meet some “stars.” Natalie Cole. Diana Ross.
SF: What would you want to ask them about?
TLC: I’d ask them the secrets to their success, other than the talent.
SF: Have you done that with drummers?
TLC: No, I’ve been more of a listener and taking whatever they say. I don’t like to get too personal.
SF: Do you see yourself someday doing the same kind of thing as Natalie Cole and Diana Ross?
TLC: Yeah, I actually do. I don’t know why. I plan on taking some voice lessons. See, what I want to do is enjoy myself for the next 10 or 20 years, and play this kind of music that I really love. But, if somebody offers me a lot of money to sing—I don’t know if I could refuse it. I just want to be in entertainment. I’d never give up the drums. I wouldn’t end up playing funk. I could think of a mixture with some jazz, just to satisfy my own needs. If I played commercial music I’d have to mix a little swing in there. Herbie Hancock does it. He plays commercial and he plays swing still.
SF: Do you find a conflict between playing commercial music and jazz?
TLC: Yes, I do. But I haven’t quite figured out how to deal with it. You can’t record both. Record companies want you to play either all funk or all jazz, I think.
SF: Do you find an attitude of bitterness among some jazz players often times?
TLC: Yeah. A lot of them are very bitter and rightfully so. They haven’t gotten recognition that they deserve. There are other people who aren’t as talented as they are that have gotten that well-deserved recognition. And the money that the jazz musicians don’t make—everybody else makes in music. Rock. Funk. I mean, I love that music too, but why can’t jazz be up there with it? It’s two totally different markets.
SF: I’ve noticed two things that I feel are holding jazz musicians back financially, especially the younger players. One is that most jazz musicians have an attitude that “jazz isn’t for everybody.” I think they get hung by the tongue. I’ve also noticed that jazz musicians aren’t as willing, generally, to stay together as a band to create a tight sound as the rock musicians are. If you’ll remember, all the greatest jazz bands have been together for extended periods of time.
TLC: That’s true too. I still don’t think that they’d get as much recognition as the rock groups. No way. That wouldn’t really change the state of where jazz is on the market. It would help some. Yes, you’re right about that. But, I think it’s maybe the intelligence of the average American per son. Jazz is a harder music to understand. A lot of people don’t even have an appreciation of it. But, people could. I think jazz could be for anybody, but they don’t get the opportunity to hear it. Turn on the radio. Everything you hear is rock, funk, fusion or whatever. Look at T.V. It’s the same thing. Go to school. It’s the same thing. If young children got an opportunity to be exposed to jazz, I think it would make all the difference in the world. I play for young kids, and some of them have never heard jazz. They’re amazed. They love it. I mean, little kids. I think that’s the only thing that would change the state of where jazz is monetarily. You can’t start them hearing it when they’re 15 or 16 be cause they’re already in a different direction.
SF: Remember in the ’30s—the Big Band Era—jazz was the popular music?
TLC: Yeah. Even in the ’50s popular music was closer to jazz—the older rhythm & blues stuff. People go with the trend. People go with what they’ve heard. You can be brainwashed easily, and that’s all they are—brainwashed. I get brainwashed from listening to rock and funk stations on the radio. Songs that I never liked I start singing and liking. It happens and it burns me up. If they only did that with jazz.
SF: Have any of the older musicians like Max Roach or Roy Haynes ever spoken with you about that aspect of the business?
TLC: A little bit here and there. I don’t think negative. All I think about is stand ing up there next to all those people who I admire so much. I never think about getting in a rut. What I want to do is establish myself someday like some of the new younger musicians, like Wynton Marsalis. I just want to stand next to them one day, hopefully not too far in the future.