Festival snares compelling drummers
Cindy Blackman & Adriana Sassoon
In many cultures, the drum is the preferred means of making an announcement. So it’s appropriate that the opening salvo of this year’s BeanTown Jazz Festival – the fall event that, in eight years of existence, has grown into an important gathering of local and national acts – will take the form of a drum summit.
Featuring two of today’s most compelling jazz drummers, Terri Lyne Carrington and Cindy Blackman, the Sept. 26 showcase at the Berklee Performance Center will offer a rare opportunity to hear, in one evening, two contrasting drum styles as well as two bands in which the player behind the skins is also the leader.Carrington and Blackman are both former Berklee students who went on to respected careers, albeit on somewhat different tracks. A local product (she grew up in Medford), Carrington was a child prodigy who attended the school in her early teens and went on to play with the likes of Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter before moving to Los Angeles where, for a time, she was the drummer in the Arsenio Hall Show band. She’s now based back in Boston, teaching at her alma mater.
Blackman didn’t finish school, bolting instead for New York, where she started as a street musician in the ’80s. She’s now best known for her many years playing with rocker Lenny Kravitz. But both she and Carrington have maintained jazz identities and careers – mainly as first-call sidewomen, with sporadic outings as leaders. (“Music for the New Millennium,” Blackman’s new double album with a groovy electro-acoustic group, just came out but was recorded in 2005; Carrington has a record due out next year.)Programming the two on the same bill highlights, of course, how rare it is to hear a woman behind the drum kit. And Carrington in particular is underscoring the gender theme through the special lineup she’s assembled for this show. It includes the singer Patrice Rushen and the pianist Geri Allen, along with a rising young saxophonist from the Netherlands, Tineke Postma.
“You reach out to like-minded people,” Carrington says on the phone from her home. She volunteers that it was her intention to gather top women players, while in the same breath starting to change the subject. “It’s a celebration of women in jazz,” she says, “but I don’t want to dwell on that.”Blackman is more adamant on the topic. “The gender question is not even worth bringing up because the drums have got nothing to do with gender,” she says on the phone from a gig in France. “I’m there because I love to play music. And I’m in support of anyone who wants to play the instrument.
“I wouldn’t care if Art Blakey was pink with polka dots and wearing a tutu,” she adds, citing the great drummer-bandleader. “I wouldn’t care if Tony Williams was green.” Williams, who played with Miles Davis, is the drummer she cites as her greatest influence among a pantheon of others, including Papa Jo Jones and Max Roach.And it’s true: Even if women are a minority in jazz, and perhaps especially on drums, there’s nothing inherent in Carrington’s or Blackman’s style that one can attribute to gender. Rather, there is the influence of these great elders; and there is each woman’s personal aesthetic and approach to an instrument that – made up as it is of a large and malleable assortment of drums and cymbals – offers almost endless possibilities.
It will be a special treat if, following each group’s set, Carrington and Blackman take the stage together to make this summit truly one to remember. At the time of these conversations the two hadn’t yet planned it out, but Carrington says there’s a good chance it will happen.”It’s a difficult instrument to do that with,” she says. “People like to see the competitive aspect of it. But if we do play together it definitely won’t be in any kind of drum battle. I do mine and she does hers, and both should be celebrated.”
Drum Summit is at Berklee Performance Center Sept. 26. 617-747-2261