Regina Carter grew up in Detroit and has been living in Bergen County for about eight years. But her family’s roots are in the South, and that was the inspiration for her latest album Southern Comfort, on which she plays songs such as Hank Williams’ “Honky Tonkin’,” Gram Parsons’ “Hickory Wind” and the standard “See See Rider.”
The project, though, is better described as “a jazz violinist playing folk and country songs” than “a violinist playing jazz versions of folk and country songs.”
“I just look at everything as music,” says Carter. “I don’t look at is as far as, ‘Is it jazz?’ or ‘Is it this or that?’ It’s all just music.
“I’m very curious about a lot of different cultures and the music that accompanies those cultures. I’m labeled a jazz violinist, but of course when I’m checking out other genres, I try not to approach it totally as a jazz player. Like, I’m not going to try to play these tunes with a bebop sensibility, or a swing sensibility. I’m trying to approach the music and stay as true as I can to the music and the time period that it came out of. But also I’m arranging these pieces so they’re not going to sound like they did on a field recording. It’s my approach or, as a band, how we see them, and how we arrange them and perceive them.”
Carter will present a show titled “Regina Carter’s Southern Comfort” at the South Orange Performing Arts Center, March 5, but it won’t be devoted exclusively to the material from that album. “Every show that we do, I change the setlist,” she says. “Even once I’m onstage, I just get a vibe sometimes, like, maybe I should do this other tune instead. Or I just get a feeling and change up the set.”
That could include, she said, songs from her previous albums, “and then sometimes just tunes we haven’t even recorded: Some standards that I enjoy playing.”
Southern Comfort, she said, grew out of her desire to connect more with her family’s history, on a personal level.
“I’m deep into ancestry.com,” she said, “and making connections with other family members — some who I knew, some who I was meeting for the first time — and gathering information. So in that process, and having people recommend readings of books and articles, and making these connections, I just thought, ‘Man, what’s the music that would have been happening during this time?’ So the idea for the record came after the fact.”
Carter has classical training, and grew up loving Motown and The Beatles, too (“Whatever my brothers were listening to,” she said). She became interested in jazz when she was in high school, and a friend turned her on to the music of jazz violinists Jean-Luc Ponty, Stéphane Grappelli and Noel Pointer.
Her next album, she said, will be very different from Southern Comfort: a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald, with guest vocalists on probably just a few songs.
“I’m not trying to mimic her,” said Carter. “I’m just trying to pay homage to her.”
Carter performs at the South Orange Performing Arts Center, March 5 at 8 p.m.; visit SOPACNow.org.
We need your help!
CONTRIBUTE TO NJARTS.NET
Since launching in September 2014, NJArts.net, a 501(c)(3) organization, has become one of the most important media outlets for the Garden State arts scene. And it has always offered its content without a subscription fee, or a paywall. Its continued existence depends on support from members of that scene, and the state’s arts lovers. Please consider making a contribution of any amount to NJArts.net via PayPal, or by sending a check made out to NJArts.net to 11 Skytop Terrace, Montclair, NJ 07043.