Lee Wohlfert
April 10, 1989 12:00 PM

It’s sign-off time on the Arsenio Hall show, and pianist Michael Wolff’s house band is smokin’. Behind her tiered drums, Terri Lyne Carrington is ablaze, shooting Roman candles of rhythm through the chorus and icing the final chord in a stuttering shower of tom-toms and cymbals. Backstage, she beams as she extends her arms to a visitor. “I’m shaking,” she says. “Those three-minute bursts! In most situations you build to a climax, then come down. Here it’s burn from the start.”

The 23-year-old percussionist, composer and vocalist has no problem with that “I’m no small, frail girl,” she says. “I see a lot of men who don’t play as hard as I do. But I don’t even hit as hard as I used to. The name of the game is stamina.”

No problem there, either. After spending four hours a day on the Hall set, Carrington is starting to play at night with the cream of L.A. jazz musicians, including pianist Patrice Rushen and bassist Charlie Haden next week at Le Cafe. With guest performances by Wayne Shorter, Grover Washington Jr. and Carlos Santana, Carrington’s major-label debut album, Real Life Story, broke into Billboards Contemporary Jazz Top 20 two weeks ago. Playing R&B and rock on the Hall show, avant-garde and contemporary jazz in the clubs, and all the above on her album, Carrington is a musical omnivore still reaching out That may dismay purists who remember her as the wunderkind swinging behind Clark Terry, Cannonball Adderley and Stan Getz as a teenager and even before. But Carrington isn’t apologizing. “I didn’t make any vows when I started to play jazz,” she says. Then, grinning, she commits the ultimate heresy. “I’d even do heavy metal—just be up there bashing my brains out”

Roll over, Grandpa. Matt Carrington, who played drums with Fats Waller and Chuck Berry, died before his granddaughter was born. But it was his drum kit that Terri Lyne fished out of the basement of her parents’ house when she lost her baby teeth at age 7 and her saxophone embouchure along with them.

She began playing her father’s alto sax when she was 5; a year later she shook a tambourine and sang onstage with multi-instrumentalist Rahsaan Roland Kirk, a family friend. While she was growing up in Medford. Mass., Carrington’s daily bread was jazz. Her mother, Judy, played piano around the house. Her father, Sonny, an insurance underwriter who had played saxophone with Lionel Hampton, listened to jazz records for hours on end while rocking his only child on his knee.

Terri Lyne became a sensation at 10, when trumpeter Clark Terry invited the budding drummer to sit in with him at the Wichita (Kans.) Jazz Festival. In the next year she played with Elvin Jones, Oscar Peterson and Dizzy Gillespie. “I didn’t know I was doing anything extraordinary,” she says, looking back. “To me they were all just normal people.”

After graduating from Medford High School at 16, Carrington spent a year and a half at Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music on a full scholarship she had been awarded when she was 11, after the school’s president heard her playing with Oscar Peterson in Boston. She drummed onscreen in Harry Belafonte’s movie Beat Street in 1984, then moved to Brooklyn and moonlighted in New York City clubs with Adderley, Getz and other jazz greats. “Sometimes,” she admits, “I used to get tired of playing with people old enough to be my parents.”

But not too tired to audition with 13 other drum hopefuls for saxophonist Wayne Shorter’s new band in 1986. She got the job. “She had what all the others had, plus her own essence,” says Shorter. “She can pull out at any moment some staggering display of what she is sometimes too shy to show offstage.”

Playing in Shorter’s genre-blending band, says Carrington, “I was able to grow and develop each night” Then last December she moved to Los Angeles and was hired for Arsenio Hall’s band. Single, and now living in a small apartment in Glendale, she’s not worried about having too much too soon. “At 23,” she says, “I’m past the danger of being jaded at a young age.”

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