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I Am Woman - Regina Carter

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Friday December 21, 2018

From Penn State News

I Am Woman – Regina Carter
By: Heather Longley

Since childhood, Regina Carter has proven herself, defeated herself and helped herself help others in ways to further the jazz violin. The multiple Grammy Award-winning musician is celebrated as one of a small number of professional black female jazz violinists in the world. Her path started with classical violin but diverged to the jazz variety, and she has been taking risks and defying stereotypes since.

Carter hopes to inspire creative transformations within young jazz musicians, too. Last summer, she served as artistic director for an all-female jazz residency at Rutgers University’“Newark. In addition to jam sessions and lessons on music theory, she led a workshop in which, she said, ‘The ladies could freely discuss concerns or difficulties they may face in a male-dominated field and learn ways in which to handle them.’

In an interview with the Center for the Performing Arts, Carter shared reactions to some of her experiences, resistance to stereotypes and her vision for the future of jazz musicianship.

Question: When you emerged on the scene, do you think people were more surprised at the notion of a female jazz violinist, a black female violinist or a classical-to-jazz violinist?

Answer: I would constantly hear, ‘There’s no such thing as jazz violin.’ When I emerged on the scene, there were only a handful of jazz violinists. Most people were familiar with American jazz violinist Noel Pointer and French violinists Jean Luc Ponty and St├ęphane Grappelli. Although there are many more jazz and improvising string players today, I still find some people don’t realize that the violin is a part of the jazz tradition.

Q: From a young age, you’ve broken out of comfort zones and reinvented yourself many times. What obstacles did you face while trying to get to a place within your art that you felt was most honest?

A: My biggest obstacle has always been me. Battling the negative voices that say ‘you can’t’ or feeling like my best isn’t enough can take a toll. I share these feelings I experience with younger musicians because they often feel like they are the only ones dealing with fear-based emotions. Those feelings may never go away, so being more than prepared is crucial. I also tell them that being nervous shows they care.

Q: One of the phenomena of the Jazz Age was the notable influx of women to the workforce. You have said that when you announced your interest in becoming a jazz musician, your mother was not into the idea. How did you win her over?

A: My mother’s initial reservation about me wanting to play jazz was that she felt there was no security. She stayed on me about having health insurance and pension. The pull for me to play jazz was so strong, I didn’t have a choice. When she saw how passionate I was about the music, I think she realized she would have to find a way to accept my choice. After I started gigging on a somewhat regular basis in New York, then touring with Wynton Marsalis for ‘Blood on the Field,’ I could finally afford to pay for my own health insurance and start contributing to my own pension, finally putting her at ease.

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