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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Im Robert Siegel.

Regina Carter, the jazz violinist and one-time MacArthur Fellow, stopped by our studio recently to play for us.

(Soundbite of music, "NTeri")

SIEGEL: Her new CD, "Reverse Thread," marks a new direction for her. Here she is with a kora player and an accordionist. It's an album of contemporary interpretations of African folk songs.

(Soundbite of music, "NTeri")

SIEGEL: Regina Carter, thank you. That was beautiful.

Ms. REGINA CARTER (Jazz Violinist): Thank you.

SIEGEL: What was that tune?

Ms. CARTER: That was a piece entitled "NTeri," and it means friendship. It was written by a great guitarist and songwriter from Mali and his name is Habib Koite.

SIEGEL: We should unpack the trio here for a moment. We heard you on violin.

Ms. CARTER: Yes.

SIEGEL: Listeners with an encyclopedic memory may recall you used to play Paganini's violin at one time.

Ms. CARTER: Yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: But you dont have that instrument with you today.

Ms. CARTER: No, I have my Wal-Mart special. No, I have my violin with me now.

SIEGEL: Good. And we have, as well?

Ms. CARTER: Will Holshouser on accordion.

SIEGEL: On accordion.

Ms. CARTER: And we have Yacuba Sissoko on kora.

SIEGEL: The kora.

Ms. CARTER: Yes.

SIEGEL: And you should describe the kora for our listeners.

Ms. CARTER: The kora is a West African harp. And Yacuba actually made his kora and he learned the instrument from his grandfather. And whats amazing with Yacuba is that he also understands the Western scale system, so we can play any key and he can tune and play every tune with us. Whereas a lot of kora players usually can only stay in the one key. So we're very lucky to have Yacuba and his talents with us.

SIEGEL: And the new album is all about finding in traditional African music connections and making a new kind of music that is both African and Western.

Ms. CARTER: Right. For many years, I've wanted to do a, quote-unquote, "world music" record, if you will. And my journey, when I started this project, was extremely broad. And then it was narrowed down to certain music from different parts of Africa. So I'm just skimming the surface.

But it's our Western and contemporary arrangements on pieces, some very old folk melodies that I found to be very beautiful, and that would work with this instrumentation.

SIEGEL: What will you play next for us?

Ms. CARTER: The next is "Hiwumbe Awumba," and it's from Uganda. It's from the Ugandan Jews actually. And the translation is: God creates then he destroys, which sounds like a very dark title but the song is very light hearted. "Hiwumbe Awumba."

One, two, one, two three four.

(Soundbite of music, "Hiwumbe Awumba")

SIEGEL: "Hiwumbe Awumba" from Uganda.

Ms. CARTER: Yes.

SIEGEL: From the Abayudaya people...

Ms. CARTER: Yes.

SIEGEL: ...of Uganda.

So, Regina Carter, tell me about the moment for you of crossing over from young violinist taking violin lessons, like any other - oh, I dont know - how many young kids take violin lessons, to becoming jazz violinist Regina Carter.

Ms. CARTER: Probably in 10th-grade. In high school, actually, I met my best friend Carla Cook who's a great jazz vocalist. And she would come to school every day speaking about Eddie Jefferson and Miles Davis, and I'd never heard of these people. So she brought me a record of - I think records of Jean Luc Ponty, Noel Pointer and Stephane Grappelli - all jazz violinists. And I was so taken by the fact that they could improvise and they had a rhythm section and it was danceable.

And I went to hear a live concert of Stephane Grappelli and saw how much fun he was having with the band, and thought: This is what I want to do. That was the turning point for me.

SIEGEL: And did your teachers and parents say, terrific, you could be a jazz violinist?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CARTER: No.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CARTER: My first teacher then thought I was ruining my career. My mother was outraged. She believed you should have a job where you could get Blue Cross, well, health insurance and pension. And so she wanted me in an orchestra. And I just - I had the calling. I couldnt do that.

Whats interesting, now we look at - because of our economy - everyone is pretty much living the lifestyle of a musician.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: Thats a wonderful real life moment, just how can you become a jazz violinist, who will pay for your health insurance.

Now, correct an impression that I've had, which is when I hear you play a violin, I tend to hear you more playing deeper, more sonorous sounds of the violin than a lot high notes on the violin.

Ms. CARTER: Yes.

SIEGEL: Was that just a very subjective impression of mine?

Ms. CARTER: No.

SIEGEL: Or is that how you play?

Ms. CARTER: That's probably what Im drawn to, darker sounds. I prefer lower sounds, but the high E-string and those high notes sometimes really affect me, so I dont like to play up there all the time. I do sometimes, I play up there. But a lot of that really makes me a little irritable.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: But when I have wondered at odd moments: Is she playing the viola, Im getting it at those points. Im not mishearing - Im getting the way you're playing.

Ms. CARTER: No. No. No.

SIEGEL: Did you start with the idea that you would do this with violin, kora, accordion, or did the music lead to that combination?

Ms. CARTER: Hmm. No, actually after the last project I knew I wanted to use -keep using accordion. I love the instrument. And I wanted another soft instrument like violin because I wanted the band to become more of an acoustic chamber group, if you will. And kora is even more quiet, I think, than the violin. So I thought it was the perfect instrument. It's so beautiful.

Then it was just trying to make the music - seeing how we could arrange it for this specific setup.

SIEGEL: Well, it's a terrific album.

Ms. CARTER: Thank you.

SIEGEL: And I wonder, Regina Carter, if you could play one more piece from "Reverse Thread," which is all about African folk tunes played here by violin, accordion and kora, before you go.

Ms. CARTER: Thank you. Yes, the next tune is called "Kanou."

One, two, three, uh.

(Soundbite of music, "Kanou")

SIEGEL: That's violinist Regina Carter playing music from her new album "Reverse Thread." You can hear and see her performing at NPRMusic.org.

(Soundbite of music, "Kanou")

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