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Artist Spotlight: Regina Carter

By Benjamin P. Cashin, Contributing Writer

Regina Carter has made a name for herself as one of the best jazz violinists of her generation, performing around the world and receiving a MacArthur Fellowship in 2006. Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, she was exposed to the city’s vibrant classical and jazz scenes from a young age, fostering her love for both the violin and musical interpretation. In her last three studio albums, Carter has displayed unique vision and curiosity by exploring the stories of her ancestors and reinterpreting them through her own musical lens. Carter will perform in Sanders Theatre on Oct. 17 as part of the Celebrity Series of Boston.

The Harvard Crimson: Since the start of your musical journey, you have learned and picked up on melodies through the Suzuki Method [the practice of learning music by listening rather than reading]. How did this reliance on ear rather than ink-on-page foster your creativity and inventiveness as a jazz artist?

Regina Carter: Back before they were teaching jazz in colleges, when musicians didn’t have money to pay for records, they were learning and listening to tunes on the radio or any shows that might feature jazz on television and then learning the language. All music, every culture, has its own classical music, and for every music, there’s always a folk music—if you will, the people’s music—and a lot of times, we learn that music by ear just as we learned our original language at home by imitating our parents to speak and hearing the inflections that they used. The Suzuki Method is based off that. So it was the most natural way for me to have learned music, and I think it really helps when it comes to hearing the inflections in the different styles and to really be focused on that because I’m not looking at the paper. The dots on the paper can only give you so much information anyway.

THC: In your recent studio albums, “I’ll Be Seeing You: A Sentimental Journey” and “Reverse Thread,” you have explored in depth the music of your parents and ancestors, all of whom grew up in worlds very different from the one we live in today. How do you reinterpret the past in the context of the present, and where do you find the inspiration to do so?

RC: It’s interesting because, hearing that music, it definitely sounds different. You can hear the era; it’s like watching black-and-white movies. Even with this newest record, “Southern Comfort,” hearing those field recordings that were often just a single voice singing into a microphone connected to a tape player, I didn’t really have much to go on except for the melodic line. I can’t recreate that sound, nor am I interested in trying, because that was honest for them. I’m trying to be honest, and I can only play what I’ve experienced, and you can hear that coming out. I’m not going to try to sound like those musicians that played in the past. I’m just trying to present it to my audience, a younger audience and the present audience, and say, ‘This is something you may not have heard.’

I'm trying to be honest, and I can only play what I've experienced, and you can hear that coming out.

So it’s going to sound like me, my voice; I can’t help that, but I try to respect the melodies and not over-decorate it because the real beauty lies within these simple, raw melodies.

THC: What do you hope listeners will experience through your music and interpretation?

RC: You know, I’ve given up hope! There was this one performance right after my mom died, and I was just so sad while playing. But after the concert, people came up to me telling me how great and beautiful it sounded. I got even more angry and sad; I was like, “I’m angry, you’re supposed to feel the anger in this!” That’s when I learned that once you create or play something, you hope people might feel that, but everyone is coming with their own story, and they’re going to experience what you put out there with their own lens on. So I guess I just want people to come, be open, and have an experience. I hope that they like the music and that it conjures up some memories for them, or makes them think about their grandparents, or makes them wonder about their origins. But even if they come and they hate it, they’ve allowed themselves to have an experience. Even if you really hate something, it stirs some memory or emotion within you, and that’s what art is supposed to do—to stir something and to make us feel.

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