Regina Carter


Turn to the word “grace” in the dictionary and you will find an unusually lengthy string of complimentary descriptions that includes: virtue from God, fluidity of movement, striking beauty or a most pleasing musical adornment. Above all of these, for jazz violinist supreme Regina Carter, Grace is the name of the woman who left indelible imprints upon her heart, mind and spirit, inspiring her to walk with pride, seek her personal best in all that she endeavored and, specifically, to ornament the world with the soul-stirring sound of music. The woman bearing that poetically apropos name was her mother.

Throughout an enviable career that has been marked by eclectic virtuosity, heart, and stunning fusions of music both celestially classical and earthily modern, Ms. Carter delivers her most stylistically focused work to date with her sixth solo release, I'll Be Seeing You: A Sentimental Journey. The album was crafted in loving memory of her mother, Grace Louise Carter, who passed away following a long illness in March 2005. “She was the reason for everything my brothers and I are and have,” Regina states. “She sacrificed a lot. We couldn't have asked for anything more. It was difficult after losing her to figure out what I wanted to play, or, if I even wanted to play at all anymore. After some soul searching I thought, ‘Let me honor her by doing some of the tunes that she loved.’”

I'll Be Seeing You does not mark the first time Ms. Carter has honored her mother in song. She co-composed and recorded the piece “Something for Grace” as the title track of her sophomore album in 1997. “I'm happy that I was able to do that,” she says. “As the saying goes, ‘Give them flowers while they are here to accept them.’” However, I'll Be Seeing You is a full CD dedicated to the righteous strength and capricious spirit of a very special lady.

I'll Be Seeing You is comprised of intimate, authentic, acoustic arrangements of songs spanning the ’20s to the ’40s — tunes that were subliminally or whole-heartedly enjoyed by Regina's mother in her youth. Rallying around Regina to lend her spiritual sunshine and support at what was a difficult time are special guest singers Dee Dee Bridgewater and Carla Cook, clarinetist Paquito D'Rivera, accordionist/arranger Gil Goldstein, producer/arranger John Clayton and current band members: pianist Xavier Davis, bassist Matthew Parrish and drummer Alvester Garnett. “It was such a gift to be able to do this recording with these musicians. They gave me absolute hope and love.”

The 12-song CD includes three gems from the pens of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart (including the delightful “You Took Advantage of Me” and “This Can't Be Love”), W.C. Handy's bedrock “St. Louis Blues” and Ella Fitzgerald's eternally wistful “A-Tisket, A-Tasket.” While the album does contain four deeply moving ballads (including Duke Ellington's “Blue Rose” and Regina's original waltz  “How Ruth Felt”), the overriding vibe swings with innocence and jubilance.

Within the credits for Regina's latest are thanks to a rarely acknowledged group of specialists: “repertoire consultants.” She explains, “I never really sat down with Mom and asked her what music she liked; she didn’t buy a lot of records; so I started checking out a lot of material. My girlfriend sent me an album of songs from that era. Then I went to Verve to check out some music in their library and came across the John Kirby arrangement of Edvard Grieg’s piece ‘Anitra's Dance,’ and knew that I wanted to record it.  Anything that made me feel good immediately became a possible tune for me to do. I think she'd get a kick out of tunes like ‘Little Brown Jug’ and ‘Bei Mir Bist Du Schön,’” (the saucy latter overflowing with brio from the ever-effervescent Ms. Dee Dee Bridgewater).

Considering Regina's widely acknowledged love for the great Ella Fitzgerald (even her recording of the Debussy classic “Reverie” on her 2003 recording Paganini: After a Dream was based on Ella's arrangement), it's not surprising that the very first song she thought to do was “A-Tisket, A-Tasket.” Apparently, Mom was a fan, too. “She really, really loved that song,” Regina says.

Key to the album's cohesiveness is the intimacy and period-specific instrumenta-tion. Though some of the songs were popular in the swing era, most of them pre-date it. One thing Regina and producer John Clayton did to distance people's perception from “swing” and its popular violin star, Stephane Grappelli, was the use of accordion. “I watched Lawrence Welk growing up,” she confesses slightly embarrassed. “There was something about that show, I couldn't turn it off. And he always had an accordion player. So it took me back to that period.”

Another guest that took Regina back in time was singer Carla Cook, a close friend from childhood. “Carla is the one who turned me on to jazz; she would come to school and tell me about Eddie Jefferson, Sarah and Ella. She also gave me a Stephane Grappelli record and when we were sixteen, she got tickets for us to see him. We'd just gotten our drivers licenses, so that was our BIG adventure!” A lover of the original Bessie Smith recording, Regina specially selected “St. Louis Blues” for Carla to sing because Carla's first grade teacher made her commit that song to memory. It was really great having Carla on the album and getting back to our roots. She was like my mother's other daughter...the good one!”

The piece that reflects the realities of Grace Carter's life is John Clayton's especially haunting arrangement of the Les Brown chestnut, “Sentimental Journey,” another of Grace's favorites. “I asked John to do an arrangement of just clarinet, violin and bass,” Regina says. “What he wrote, took my ears a minute to adjust to, because it's very dark and the more we played it, the more it made me think about another type of journey.  The journey we all must go through in accepting others and being accepted into a society that historically, has a very dark past.”

The album closes with an emotional one-two punch. First is a bittersweet rendition of “There's a Small Hotel” (sung by Cook), the lyrics of which reflect a longing for just one more quality encounter with someone you love. It's followed by the album's title track, “I'll Be Seeing You.” “That song was just so apropos for me,” Regina says quietly, “because I will see her again. I don't feel like she's gone. She's just in my life in a different way.”

Regina Carter’s immersion in music began at the age of two when she took up piano, followed by violin at the age of four. Forever indebted to the Suzuki method of music teaching, the approach freed her from the rigid restraints of solely reading music and opened her to the wonders of improvisation. Though her original focus was classical music, with the hope of being a soloist with a major symphony, the pull of Detroit’s rich soul music legacy and the discovery of jazz broadened her horizons. 

Regina attended Detroit's prestigious Cass Technical High School. Upon graduating, she departed for the New England Conservatory of Music, only to return to Michigan’s Oakland University, seasoning her chops by gigging with several local musicians. She later joined the attention-grabbing all-female quartet Straight Ahead which recorded two albums for Atlantic Records. Carter departed the band in 1994, recording two solo albums for Atlantic while also making the most of her newfound New York connections by working with the likes of the String Trio of New York, Muhal Richard Abrams, and Greg Tate and the Black Rock Coalition.

Carter joined Verve Records in 1998 and has since recorded four critically acclaimed works of astounding maturity and variety: Rhythms of the Heart, Motor City Moments (also produced by John Clayton) and Paganini: After a Dream (for which she made history by being the first African American and jazz musician to travel to Genoa, Italy to perform and record with the legendary Guarneri del Gesu violin owned by classical music virtuoso Niccolò Paganini), and a duet project with pianist Kenny Baron entitled Freefall. Her playing has also graced work that includes filmmaker Ken Burns’ soundtrack for the PBS documentary, Jazz; Wynton Marsalis’ opera Blood on the Fields; Cassandra Wilson’s tribute to Miles Davis, Traveling Miles; and the queen of hip-hop soul Mary J. Blige. In the summer of 2006, Regina will join Latin Jazz pianist Eddie Palmieri for some dates related to his latest recording, the Grammy® award-winning, Listen Here, on which she was also a guest.

Among her personal accomplishments is work she has done to spread the love of music to others, something that is touched upon in her one original composition on I’ll Be Seeing You. “My producer, John Clayton always insists that I write at least one original piece on every album,” she says. “I chose ‘How Ruth Felt,’ which is a commissioned piece that I wrote for a woman named Ruth Felt, President of San Francisco Performances, an arts organization in San Francisco. I spent some time as an Artist-In-Residence there, teaching music to disadvantaged children and spreading the joy of music to people in community centers and churches around the Bay area. Ruth helped me tremendously while I was dealing with my mother’s illness. I included ‘How Ruth Felt’ on my album as a way to say, ‘Thank you.’”

Now Regina Carter is looking forward to a brighter 2006, filled with sharing the memory of her mother and the music of I’ll Be Seeing You: A Sentimental Journey with people in a live context. “When I perform now, she shares, “I feel different when I go on stage…stronger…like I've gone through something and really lived! I still get nervous, but all of those negative, critical voices that I used to hear in my head are gone. I think that’s my mother…making me realize that none of that is important. This is my stage…it’s what I do…and I'm having a good time.”