Allen, Carrington, Spalding enjoy playing on an all-star team

From left: Geri Allen, Terri Lyne Carrington, and Esperanza Spalding.
Terri Lyne
From left: Geri Allen, Terri Lyne Carrington, and Esperanza Spalding.

All-star jazz groups tend to come together for projects that busy solo careers render a one-time thing. But the trio of Geri Allen, Terri Lyne Carrington, and Esperanza Spalding will be playing for the third time in Boston with their four sets at Scullers this weekend, having done so before in 2011 and 2013 (the latter as one of three stellar bands celebrating Wayne Shorter’s 80th birthday at Symphony Hall).

They’ve managed this despite full schedules elsewhere. Allen, one of jazz’s most influential pianists of the past 30 years, directs the jazz studies department at the University of Pittsburgh and has a European tour lined up next month as a duo with Italian trumpeter Enrico Rava.

Carrington, a drum prodigy growing up in Medford, returned home to teach full-time at Berklee in 2005 after years spent on the West Coast touring and recording with Herbie Hancock. She has put out a pair of Grammy-winning albums of her own since returning, and at this year’s Winter JazzFest in New York unveiled her new band Social Science, featuring rising stars Aaron Parks and Matthew Stevens.


Spalding has been celebrated in both the jazz and pop worlds since besting Justin Bieber as best new artist at the 2011 Grammys, and her recent “Emily’s D+Evolution” project added a captivating theatrical layer to her singer-songwriter and instrumental prowess. Earlier this week she was streaming rehearsals for her next big project, which she plans to debut in the fall.

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That Spalding would interrupt this busyness for a couple of nights in Boston, she explained by phone, is because it’s fun. “I love playing with Terri,” she enthuses, “and obviously with Geri.” Playing with such advanced players, Spalding adds, also ramps up her upright bass chops.

The shifting between her own eclectic projects and full-on postmodern, instrumental jazz is no big deal to her. “This is what I do,” Spalding says. “I play music, so it’s not really important to me what kind of music I’m playing. It’s just if I think it’s good, and if I have time for it.”

The pianist is often assumed the leader in a trio such as this, but Allen, in a separate phone call, clarified that this one works otherwise. “The trio is an equal participation in terms of everything: composition-wise, arrangement, and the way that we improvise together,” she says. “It’s a thrill, it really is.”

Allen credits Carrington with bringing the trio together. In some sense it’s an offshoot of Carrington’s first Grammy winner, “The Mosaic Project,” which featured an all-female cast of 21 instrumentalists and singers, including other such big names as Sheila E., Anat Cohen, Cassandra Wilson, and Dee Dee Bridgewater. But Carrington had known Allen and Spalding well before that.


Carrington says her first gig with Allen came about via Keter Betts, longtime bassist for Ella Fitzgerald.

“I met Geri when I was about 12 or 14,” she recalls. “Keter Betts got me to Washington to play at Blues Alley with him. It was a trio. Geri was a student at Howard University. It was her and Keter and myself.”

Carrington first heard of Spalding when Berklee president Roger Brown came to LA to recruit her to teach and played a recording with Spalding on it. When Carrington began work at Berklee, Spalding had graduated and was teaching there herself. But Brown had been right about them needing to meet. The two share a fondness for exploring music beyond jazz, Carrington having mined a more R&B-oriented vein on her most recent release, “The Mosaic Project: Love and Soul,” with a similarly star-studded ensemble of women.

There’s a good deal of freedom in the trio’s postmodernism. And all three of its members hope to encourage other women to pursue the same.

For the past few summers, Allen has been leading a weeklong summer jazz camp for women at Rutgers University, bringing in musicians, scholars, and industry people to give the camp’s students “some perspective on what it is to be out in the world of music.”


Spalding sees “doing what we do and doing it well” as the trio’s most effective means of inspiring women. “We’re just bad-ass, and that can be enough, too.”

‘The way thatwe improvise together . . .It’s a thrill, itreally is.’

Carrington’s approach to the issue is evolving. She would like to see more women studying instrumental jazz at Berklee.

“When I put ‘The Mosaic Project’ together, I really wasn’t trying to make a political statement,” she recalls. “I never considered myself a feminist. I just am who I am, I do what I do. But recently I’ve really been trying to figure out what I can do to contribute to a change for the better as far as women being encouraged and supported playing this music. Because this does still feel like a boys’ club.

“That’s where my head is now. I think I woke up one day and felt like I didn’t grow up with a whole lot of peers, female peers, and I don’t want it to be that way 30 years from now.”

ACS Trio: Geri Allen, Terri Lyne Carrington, Esperanza Spalding

At Scullers Jazz Club, Cambridge, April 14 and 15 at 8 and 10 p.m. (The second set on April 14 will be broadcast live on WGBH-FM). Tickets $38, 866-777-8932,

Bill Beuttler can be reached at