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Former Jazz Prodigy Maps Her Future as Mainstream Star

August 21, 1989

BOSTON (AP) _ At 23, Terri Lyne Carrington seems too young to call an album ″Real Life Story.″

But it’s not so unusual when one realizes that the drummer has been playing with some of the giants in jazz since she was 10 years old, and her own life story already surpasses many twice her age.

She’s on hiatus from ″The Arsenio Hall Show,″ where she’s been drummer in the band since the late-night talk fest first aired. She’s busy touring the country to promote ″Real Life Story,″ her debut LP with a major label on Verve-Forecast Records. She composed all but two songs on the album, co- produced it with Robert Irving III and sings on three tracks.

It would seem to be a high point in an already illustrious career. But for Carrington, it’s simply a turning point, part of a grand plan in which she moves from jazz prodigy to mainstream star.

″When I was 11 or 12, one side of me wanted to be a great drummer and the other side wanted to be Diana Ross,″ she said. Now, it appears, both dreams may be realized.

A pretty, serene young woman, Carrington is modest, almost blase, about her impressive past. She grew up an only child in Medford, Mass., a working-class city outside Boston, where her father, Sonny Carrington, a saxophonist, introduced her to the sax when she was 5 years old. ″I asked him if I could play,″ she said.

Her decision to switch to drums at age 7 was borne of necessity.

″My teeth fell out,″ she explained during a recent interview in Boston.

By the age of 10, Carrington had begun to sit in with visiting musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Elvin Jones and Oscar Peterson. That same year, Clark Terry, impressed with her ability, took her to the Wichita Jazz Festival. She met drummer Buddy Rich there, who then accompanied her on the television show ″To Tell the Truth.″

Two years later, she was awarded a special scholarship to the Berklee College of Music after the school’s director heard her play with Peterson. During her time at Berklee, she took courses in piano, drums and vibes, along with harmony and composition.

In 1981 she recorded an album, ″TLC and Friends,″ with Kenny Barron, Buster Williams and George Coleman. During this period, Carrington began to shape her career, shifting from a classical tradition to one that would bring her eventual commercial success.

″When I was 14, I had the potential; I strived to be one of the greatest drummers, period,″ she said. ″But something happened between the time I was 14 and 19. I decided I wanted to be an artist - a singer, writer, producer.″

She graduated from high school at 16, and in 1983, moved to New York and played with a variety of musicians such as Stan Getz, James Moody, Woody Shaw and Cassandra Wilson.

Her career, she said, has always snowballed. ″In this business, you work whenever you can.″

While in New York, Carrington began to tire of acoustic jazz and decided to move into more contemporary music. She started playing with Wayne Shorter, co- founder of Weather Report, and last year toured with David Sanborn.

Carrington said she rarely got nervous playing with such established musicians. Carlos Santana, Patrice Rushen and Grover Washington Jr. are among the musicians on her new album.

″I usually put more pressure on myself than they did,″ she said. ″I remember Wayne would say, ‘It’s only music, relax.’ That changed my outlook.″

After five years she began to dislike New York City, and recently moved to Los Angeles. She lives in the suburb of Glendale. It reminds her more of the suburban neighborhood where she grew up.

In Los Angeles, the transformation from journeyman jazz musician to budding star is in full swing. ″The Arsenio Hall Show″ brought her national celebrity. Her circle of friends include actresses Dawnn Lewis of ″A Different World″ and Marsha Warfield of ″Night Court.″

Her next album will be mostly vocals, and she plans to try some acting.

″I’m one of those people who likes excitement, a certain kind of edge,″ she said. ″I like that place in between being in control and being safe. I like to be daring and take chances.″

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