Monday, March 14, 2005

Regina Carter

At IAJEStrings, Gayle Dixon wrote this great - and moving - essay/email:

Hi, all --

Not only is Regina Carter a phenomenal musician, she is an incredible person who is dearly loved by a number of musicians in this forum. As one of the many who hold Regina in high regard, I was deeply offended by Matvei Sigalov's comments. I realize they were not meant for public view, however, I feel compelled to answer what's been said. I agree that we should move on in a positive manner.

Regina and Kenny Barron have performed together on many, many, many, many occasions. Darol Anger hit the mark when he mentioned the nature of the music business. It's a business that doesn't deal kindly with musicians, even jazz greats. I prefer to believe that Kenny Barron recognized a rising star when he saw one, and was smart enough to include Regina on his front line! By the way, the association hasn't hurt his reputation or marketability.

There are at least two lessons here. When I first started working, someone told me to "always hire musicians who are at least as good as you." Years later, a prominent jazz bassist told me that people didn't call him because they thought he was too busy, or maybe the money wasn't good enough. He was sitting at home when he'd rather have been out playing! It goes without saying that Regina is a smart business woman. When she got some work, she offered it to Kenny Barron -- and he took the gig! But going back to my first point, it's very clear that they respect each other's musicianship.

I want to point to some of the factors that distinguish Regina Carter from most of the violinists in this forum. First, she made her name by stepping out in front of the real heavy-hitters of jazz. Regina paid her dues in a way few string players can match. John Blake did it before her -- Grover Washington, Jr. and McCoy Tyner put John out in front of their bands. Unfortunately, the industry was not smart enough to give John's work the support it deserved. Regina came along at the right time, and had all of the ingredients for success.

Regina is a proven artist who has delivered, time and time again, on stages around the world. She has broad appeal -- her style, musicianship, and approach to the violin are already influencing a generation of violinists. I played her "Paganini: After A Dream" concert at Lincoln Center. She is a musical powerhouse. There wasn't an empty seat in the hall. Less than a handful of violinists get that kind of receiption.

I also had the pleasure of serving as an objective ear for Regina last year when she was preparing to play a newly composed classical violin concerto with a major symphony orchestra. WE did about three sessions. She is one of the most disciplined musicians I know, and has a formidable technique. She is also relentless. Didn't stop for refreshments, small talk, anything -- I was exhilarated by the quality of her work.

Further, Regina is an innovator. Yes, she "internalized the jazz vocabulary," using it as a launch pad for her personal voice, but Regina doesn't just use the vocabulary. She speaks the mother tongue, the language of the blues, and rhythmically she is deep in the pocket. Regina "walks the walk, and talks the talk."

I recognize that the jazz vocabulary yields itself rather elegantly to some who don't speak the mother tongue. Clearly, it is possible to develop a unique and powerful voice in jazz without it. I was on a rehearsal break at NYC's old Carroll Studios many years ago, when I heard a distinctive violin voice emanating from one of the rooms. I peeked in, and sure enough, it was Stephane Grappelli. (He stopped to chat, even invited me to his performance that night.) It could not have been anyone else. You heard him and you said, "yes, that's Grappelli." His was not New Orleans, Kansas City, Chicago, Philly, NYC or any other American blues, but he was a force of nature, and his "gypsy blues" style resonated.

I sincerely believe that the mother tongue and the rhythm are what make the music "jazz." If it doesn't at least resonate like the blues, and the rhythm is not in the pocket, you definitely need to call it "Alternative" or something else. Regina is a jazz musician.

By the way, some years later I was "on the same stage" with Grappelli when I played some shows in Monte Carlo, Monaco. I've also been on the same stage with Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Woody Shaw, Max Roach, and a host of others. Did I "deserve" to be on the stage with them? Eat your heart out, people -- I was the one who got the call.

The Internet is a great equalizer. Anyone can put together some recordings and self-promote. Lest we forget, some people are big fish in small ponds, some are in their pool in the backyard, and others, like Regina, are taking long strokes across the ocean.

Gayle Dixon

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