Terri Lyne CarringtonTerri Lyne Carrington:

She’s Only Just Begun

by Jack London

Why a feature story on a twelve year old little girl in a drummers magazine? Very simple. Terri Lyne Carrington of Medford, Massachusetts first off is not your average twelve-year-old girl; and she’s not just an average little drummer. She happens to be one of the most remarkable new jazz drumming talents on the scene today, and as the title reads — she’s only just begun. Impossible you say? Well, read on — and look out.

ART BLAKEY: “She has a terrific ear and a terrific talent. I think her future is wide open. When she played with us last fall she surprised everybody but me, because I knew what she could do. She’s my secret weapon.”

ROLAND KIRK: “If she keeps her head and keeps the music on her mind and doesn’t get turned around later in life, she’ll make a good contribution to the music. She’s on the right track. She’s not strung out just playing a rock thing and getting hung up on flash being a little girl. She’s trying to play music.”

DIZZY GILLESPIE: “She’s mean! She’s good man! That little girl can play.”

Despite her tender age, Terri Lyne has already performed with each of the above musicians plus other jazz luminaries like Les McCann, Buddy Rich, Joe Williams, Helen Hume, Harry “Sweets” Edison, Sonny Stitt, Jimmy Witherspoon, Oscar Peterson and both Nat and the late Cannonball Adderley.

One might easily wonder how a little girl becomes such a dynamic player at such a tender age. Well, music runs in Terri’s family. Her grandfather, the late Matt Carrington Sr., was a roommate of saxophonist Chu Berry and went on to become a professional drummer with such greats as Fats Waller, Johnny Hodges and Duke Ellington. Terri’s dad, Matt (Sonny) Carrington – currently an insurance underwriter – at one time fronted his own band and still plays tenor sax with local bands and visiting musicians. He’s currently Vice- President of the Boston Jazz Society.

Terri’s early home life nurtured her inborn musical instinct, and unlike most children her age, she’s been surrounded by jazz all of her life. “When she was going on two, I used to pick her up and listen to jazz while holding her. She got the feeling of the music by my rocking and tapping her while listening to folks like Jimmy Witherspoon”, says Terri’s proud dad. “When she was small, we’d go through our record collection listening to early Coltrane or Cannonball and progress through their later periods. Once I took her to a concert with Illinois Jacquet, and after hearing him, she decided she wanted to play the sax. When we got home, she picked up my sax and started playing riffs. It was like a miracle.”

Her career as a saxophonist, however, was short lived. She was about five years old when she lost her baby teeth which made it difficult for her to play the instrument. Undaunted by the dental dropout, Terri Lyne stumbled on her paternal grandfather’s thirty year old drums in the basement. She hasn’t put them down since. She practiced on her late grandfather’s drums for a year before beginning formal lessons at the Lexington Music Center. She now studies with Keith Copeland of the Berklee College of Music in Boston where she holds the distinction of being the youngest musician ever to get a scholarship to the prestigious school. Berklee president, Lawrence Berk has commented, “I think she’s genius material.”

Last year, Terri sat in with Clark Terry at Sandy’s Jazz Revival in Boston. Clark was so impressed with the youngster’s remarkable ability that he asked her to accompany him at the highly regarded Wichita Jazz Festival. She borrowed Louie Bellson’s drums for her festival debut with Clark’s East Coast – West Coast jazz giants which included Jimmy Rowles, Lockjaw Davis, Al Cohn, George Duvivier and Garnett Brown. Her fantastic performance brought three standing ovations. “I thank God I’ve had a child who was able to comprehend the music and a God given talent to pick up and carry on the tradition of my family,” says Matt Carrington.

And how is the talented little twelve year old taking all this recent notoriety? “The publicity doesn’t seem to have affected her at all. She takes it in stride,” says her teacher, Gerald Daley of the Brooks Elementary School in West Medford, where Terri is at the top of her class. “My classmates don’t treat me any different. Half of them don’t even know that I play drums,” says Terri. “You can’t really start your career at ten, so right now the music is a hobby. But, when I get out of school, it will be my career. By the time I get to college, I should already have the basics down, so I probably won’t have to work as hard as some of the other students.”

Since Terri’s live performances have been limited for the most part to sit-in situations, she usually has been faced with the difficulty of playing someone else’s drums. She looks the drums over very carefully from the audience before she gets up to play. “I listen to how the drums sound — the tone; and I look over the set-up. I’m usually always nervous when I first get onstage, but after the first few bars, I’m not nervous anymore.”

Along with all the local and national media coverage, Terri’s radically precocious talent has not gone unnoticed by some of the major industry people. She enjoys the status of being the youngest endorser for both Avedis Zildjian Cymbals and Slingerland Drums.

Terri rates jazz drummers Alan Dawson and Louie Bellson as her all time favorites, but her record collection also consists of the work of Billy Cobham and Roy Haynes. “Terri’s sense of time is fantastic,” says her instructor Keith Copeland. “She’s at the point of playing with groups where if somebody in the group is out of time, she’ll call them on it. I think she can make a major breakthrough. But it’s up to her — she can do whatever she wants to do.”

Not bad for twelve years old. We, at MD have a strong inner feeling that the name Terri Lyne Carrington will appear in the pages of this magazine many more times in the future. Jazz drummers — look out. Terri Lyne’s on the scene, and she’s only just begun.