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Terri Lyne Carrington on the Power of Betting on Yourself

She became a regular member of Mr. Terry’s band, then joined the touring ensembles of Mr. Shorter and Herbie Hancock. She moved to Los Angeles in 1989 — the same year she released her own debut album — to take the drum chair in “The Arsenio Hall Show” house band. But the job meant staying put for much of the year, and she soon left, feeling hemmed in. Over the next 17 years, she became known as one of the most respected musicians in Los Angeles, though she had trouble finding acceptance as a bandleader. On multiple occasions, executives at Blue Note invited her to submit a demo recording, but ultimately declined to sign her.

Starting in the early 2000s, she began to funnel her decades of experience into leadership work — sometimes self-financing her recordings when she couldn’t find sufficient label support. In 2011 she released “The Mosaic Project,” a landmark recording featuring a cast of all female musicians, which won a Grammy for best jazz vocal album, Ms. Carrington’s first of three wins in various categories.

Ms. Carrington had spent much of her career shying away from invitations to play in women-only bands; the offers that came from promoters and festivals often felt gimmicky or forced. But by the time she thought to record “Mosaic,” she said, “I looked up, and that was who I was calling for gigs anyway” — musicians like Ms. Spalding, the pianist Geri Allen and the saxophonist Tineke Postma.

A few years later, with the #MeToo movement picking up, Berklee was rocked by reports of sexual assault and harassment by faculty members, and the jazz world at large began coming to terms with broader issues of gender discrimination. Ms. Carrington, who had been on the school’s faculty since 2005, thought about mounting an institutional response.

“I feel ownership in this art form — this is my music — and there’s no man, no woman, no anybody that could ever tell me that this isn’t my music and I don’t belong here,” Ms. Carrington said.

Through conversations with the activist-academics Angela Davis, Gina Dent and Anika Simpson, she sketched a concept for the Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice, where a predominantly female faculty, staff and student body are now working to advance — as the institute’s saying goes — a practice of “jazz without patriarchy.”

“We say ‘jazz without patriarchy,’ but life without patriarchy is really what we’re striving for,” she said. “And jazz is our microcosm.”

Articles in this series examine jazz musicians who are helping reshape the art form, often beyond the glare of the spotlight.

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