Drum roll, please
9/24/2008, 6:48 a.m.
Both have extensive résumés featuring time working with jazz legends — Blackman has teamed with contemporary giants like Sam Rivers, Hugh Masekela and Bill Laswell, and Carrington has toured and recorded with Dizzy Gillespie and Herbie Hancock.
A Medford native, Carrington has been behind the drum kit for nearly her entire life, and early on earned consideration as a percussion prodigy. By age 11, she had received a full scholarship to study at Berklee. After graduating in 1983, Carrington moved to New York City to begin work as a session drummer, playing with the likes of Pharaoh Sanders, James Moody and Lester Bowie.
Carrington released her debut album, “Real Life Story,” in 1989, earning a Grammy nomination. She kept busy during the 1990s, touring extensively with Hancock, and was tapped in 1996 to collaborate on the recording of “Always Reach for Your Dreams,” a song commissioned for the Olympic Games held that year in Atlanta.
In 2003, Carrington received an honorary doctorate from Berklee — the college actually lowered the minimum age for such an honor just for her. While the demands of caring for her young son have of late reined in her intense work schedule, they have also brought Carrington back to her alma mater as a professor in the percussions department.
She still performs on the weekends, but says she’s finding a different type of musical fulfillment in her new role.
“Teaching is mentoring, a more one-on-one kind of reward,” she said. “[With performing] … you play for a lot of people, but you don’t have that same kind of one-on-one connection.”
Like Carrington, Cindy Blackman is a lifelong percussionist. After a brief stint taking piano and guitar lessons at the suggestion of her grandmother, a classically trained pianist, and her uncle, who played vibraphone and guitar, the Ohio native found a home behind the drums.
“When I saw an actual drum set [in person], I was floored,” she said. “That was it for me.”
In the ’80s, after three semesters at Berklee, Blackman took her education, drum kit and all, to the sidewalks of New York City — a move that placed her at the epicenter of the jazz scene, inhabited by originators like Miles Davis, Elvin Jones and Ron Carter. There, she was able to sharpen her skills, playing daily for six or seven hours and rubbing elbows with some of the scene’s biggest names.
From the mid-’90s through the early part of this decade, Blackman pared down her busy drumming style to support rock ‘n’ roller Kravitz.
“It’s groove-oriented,” Blackman said of playing with Kravitz. “You’re playing backbeats and maybe some fills here and there. You’re not creating in terms of giving input and changing the music and making colors happen and being spontaneous. That doesn’t exist in that kind of situation. It’s a different headspace.”
Blackman has inhabited a number of headspaces in her wide-ranging career. In addition to her time spent touring with Kravitz, she has partnered with contemporary jazz giants Rivers, Masekela and Laswell, as well as the eclectic guitarist Buckethead.
That array of experience is par for the course for a performer who says her musical aspirations are nothing short of virtuosity.
“Virtuosity means you are beyond the confines of technique, meaning that whatever it is you want to say on your instrument, you can say — as if you were breathing, walking, talking — first nature,” she said.
Both Carrington and Blackman play their music in such a way that their drum parts can exist and be enjoyed without accompaniment, bringing the drums out of the background and up to the front of the stage. That could mean nothing short of a world-class percussion showcase, for concertgoers tomorrow night — back-to-back sets of high-energy jazz eruption.
“The music that we play really takes you on a journey — I like movement and change and color [in my music], and we’re very spontaneous within the jazz form,” said Blackman.
“Drummers tend to keep it exciting,” said Carrington.
Friday’s drum summit at the Berklee Performance Center, 136 Massachusetts Avenue, Boston, will be a ticketed affair, while Saturday’s outdoor concerts will be free to all. For ticket availability and more information, visit www.beantownjazz.org.