Terri Lyne Carrington and Social Science
Grammy-winning jazz drummer/composer and educator/activist Terri Lyne Carrington appeared at the recent Association of Performing Arts Professionals (APAP) conference’s appropriately titled Resilience and Sustainability: The Long Conversation plenary session, held at the New York Hilton Midtown
“Our practice is founded on risk,” she told attendees, adding, “Some play it safe, but I don’t.”
“It was a nice panel--and thoughtful,” Carrington said afterward. Of her participation, she added, “You wonder how much of an impact you’ve made when people leave, but it’s important to do and contribute to the community and be a proactive part of it.”
Her latest album Waiting Game, released as Terri Lyne Carrington + Social Science, serves as an extension of both her artistic risk-taking and community proactivity.
The follow-up to her 2015 album The Mosaic Project: Love and Soul (itself the follow-up to her 2011 female artist-focused The Mosaic Project, though she released Money Jungle: Provocative in Blue, her 2013 take on Duke Ellington’s 1962 Money Jungle album with Charles Mingus and Max Roach in between), Waiting Game is a double-album reflecting her heightened attention to current events and her social work relating to them.
“Basically, I’m more and more concerned with things that are happening,” she said, summing it all up thusly: “Our country is in a mess.”
In fact, Carrington, who simultaneously serves as professor at her alma mater Berklee College of Music in Boston, is the founder and artistic director there of the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice.
“Most of my work these days has been with gender equity and justice as well as racial justice,” she noted, “and also being concerned with environmental justice--because there’s nothing else to be concerned with if not the planet--and animal and economic justice.”
Carrington, then, seeks a cross between music artistry and activism, and her success in doing so is manifest in Waiting Game. The album’s songs showcase her politically and socially conscious viewpoint and comment on “what’s happening in our society and the things we need to pay attention to.”
Lead track “Trapped in the American Dream” is about “the mass-incarceration-for-profit prison system,” said Carrington.
“‘Bells’ is about police brutality,” she continued. “‘The Anthem’ is about gender equity, ‘Pray the Gay Away’ is about homophobia, ‘Purple Mountains’ is about Native American genocide, and ‘No Justice (For Political Prisoners)’ is what the title says. But all of the songs have something to say.”
The album, Carrington added, was conceived in the wake of the 2016 presidential election. She made it with her current band Social Science, whose key members are Carrington, guitarist Matthew Stevens and keyboardist Aaron Parks.
“The three of us are on the cover of this month’s JazzTimes,” said Carrington, who said that other band members—saxophonist/bassist Morgan Guerin, vocalist Debo Ray and DJ Kass Overall—joined after.
“We’re trying to make it so this is the band at the gigs, but if somebody can’t make it, we call on our Social Science community of like-minded musicians—as well as musicians in the communities where we’re performing, such as a soloist, rapper, poet or spoken word artist, or even a dancer.”
All the songs on Waiting Game are co-written, except for the cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Love.”
“Most of the material is with the three of us, and the rappers brought their own raps and spoken word,” said Carrington, also singling out featured artists Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Raydar Ellis, Kokayi, Mark Kibble, Rapsody, Meshell Ndegeocello and Maimouna Youssef (Mumu Fresh).
As is related in a mission statement in Waiting Game’s liner notes, the songs are a response “to an ever-changing social and political landscape,” meant to “inspire conscious thought and elevate a deep regard for humanity, addressing critical issues which disproportionately, and negatively, impact the lives and freedoms of many due to their race, gender, class, sexuality and/or faith.”
Also noted is that Social Science has called upon its musical influences in various genres—jazz, indie rock, R&B, hip-hop, free improvisation, contemporary classical and world music—in offering “an eclectic alternative to the mainstream.”
Carrington distinguishes the first Waiting Game disc for directly dealing with the above-noted “critical issues” and being “pretty well-produced,” whereas the four-part, 42-minute “Dreams and Desperate Measures” instrumental piece that comprises Disc Two is “the total opposite.”
“Disc One took three years to do, but the second disc is almost all improvisation,” she said. “But it’s all about freedom--which is what we’re all looking for when we talk about social justice. So Disc One reflects power--what freedom could look like. Disc Two is more of what freedom is musically—what it sounds like.”
And as for why Disc One took so long to make, besides assembling all the artists involved, Carrington is busy with her teaching at Berklee and residencies at other universities, not to mention “a lot of different jobs” that go with her new commitments to gender justice and other social efforts.
“People find a way to tie the two together,” noted Carrington, referring to her artistry and other endeavors. “I realized a new sense of purpose once I decided to focus on those things, and my phone has been ringing off the hook ever since!”