Regina Carter | Photo by Christopher Drukker

About Open Ears: So many people who made invaluable contributions to classical music have been nearly lost to history or are underappreciated in their time. That’s why KUSC is starting Open Ears, a series of stories about composers, musicians, and conductors who deserve more recognition. You can learn more and explore other articles here.

It almost takes your breath away. To be touched by so many forces in music yet maintain one’s own voice is truly something special, and maybe that’s exactly why Regina Carter is such a unique violinist. That push-and-pull of influences allows only a few top artists the ability to accept and maintain the challenges of playing an instrument in so many different genres.

Her accomplishments are many: playing and recording on Paganini’s legendary violin, the “Cannon,” the most famous Guarneri violin of them all, complete with armed guards when it travels to the concert hall. Meeting Ella Fitzgerald when Regina was just a high school student. Then there were the master classes with Itzhak Perlman and Yehudi Menuhin. Studio sessions when she was the new kid in town (New York City) with the likes of Dolly Parton, Billy Joel, and Aretha Franklin. Blazing trails with her all-female jazz group called Straight Ahead. Regina Carter has made her mark in California, helping to open San Francisco’s SFJAZZ Center a few years back, in addition to working the Oakland Symphony to premiere new contemporary works like a Violin Concerto by jazz pianist Billy Childs.

Regina Carter was born in Detroit back in 1966 and started early with the Suzuki method (which she still champions). Her gift just may be that fluid ability to move from one musical stream to the next. An obvious comparison would be to public radio star and mandolinist Chris Thiele. A major milestone was achieved when Regina was awarded the prestigious MacArthur Fellows Program Genius Grant in 2006. In presenting the award, the committee said, “Regina Carter is a master of improvisational jazz violin. Though her work draws upon a wide range of musical influences—including Motown, Afro-Cuban, Swing, Bebop, Folk, and World—she has crafted a signature voice and style…. Carter’s performances highlight the often overlooked potential of the jazz violin for its lyric, melodic, and percussive potential. Her early training as a classical musician is reflected in the fluidity, grace, and balance of her performance. Carter’s repertoire retains a firm connection with the familiar while venturing in new, unexpected directions. Carter is pioneering new possibilities for the violin.”

That generous grant has allowed her to teach at Boston’s Berklee College of Music and Stanford Jazz, all the while actively recording wide-ranging CD releases that show off her comfort and expert touch in the worlds of classical, Afro-Cuban, folk, and world music. In due time she’ll return to the California, and we’ll have the pleasure of enjoying a style of music Regina Carter has embraced from somewhere in her travels.

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