Terri Lyne Carrington on her mission to correct jazz history: ‘Women don’t get called geniuses enough’

The best-known book of jazz standards contains 399 pieces written by men and just one by a woman. With the all-female New Standards, the pioneering drummer-bandleader is undoing the idea of jazz as a boys’ club

Imagine for a moment that you are a jazz musician looking for a standard to master – one of those timeless songs widely accepted as the backbone of the genre. You flick through The Real Book for inspiration – the best-selling jazz songbook of all time, with its distinctive peachy cover. There is music by Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, the late Chick Corea – untold greats. But scanning its 400 songs, something seems off: only one of these jazz standards is written by a woman.

Grammy-winning drummer Terri Lyne Carrington knew this wasn’t the full picture. The Real Book has Ann Ronell’s Willow Weep for Me and some songs attributed to Billie Holiday, she says, but it overlooks the countless women who made jazz history. Carrington is also a professor at Berklee College of Music, where the first Real Book was devised in the 1970s. Her upcoming project, New Standards, is a corrective: a sheet book of jazz compositions written entirely by women. In addition, she selected 11 to record for a studio album, joined by guests including Ravi Coltrane (son of John and Alice), singer and flautist Melanie Charles and avant-garde trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusirie (and it will be rounded off by a multimedia exhibition at Detroit’s Carr Center). “Geniuses,” Carrington stresses. “Women don’t get called that enough.”

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