WHEN she was just 10 years old, Terri Lyne Carrington started playing drums with jazz greats like Dizzy Gillespie, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Betty Carter, and Illinois Jacquet. When trumpeter Clark Terry heard her play, he took her to the Wichita Jazz Festival, where she met Buddy Rich, who was so impressed he got her a spot on TV's ``To Tell the Truth.'' When she was only 12 years old, she won a scholarship to Boston's Berklee College of Music, after director Lawrence Berk heard her play with pianist Oscar Peterson.
Today, at 24, she has an album of her own music, ``Real Life Story,'' and is house band drummer on the Arsenio Hall TV show. After all those years as a child prodigy from Medford, Mass., playing mainstream jazz with people a lot older than herself, Terri Lyne has emerged from the experience with this philosophy:
``The best part about music is what's new,'' she said in a recent telephone interview from her home in Los Angeles. ``That keeps up the intrigue.''
Unlike some of her contemporaries, who grew up with rock and fusion and are just beginning to explore jazz and its roots, Carrington sees her traditional musical background as a springboard for the kind of music she's doing now, especially her new album, which contained some fusion, some bop, some avant-garde, some Brazilian, some pop/rock, and some African-influenced numbers. If it's new and different, it's likely to catch her attention.
But she does respect the jazz artists who are trying to keep their tradition alive.
``There's a lot of value to that, she says. ``It's like being a classical musician. I'm not saying you can't be creative in that mode. I have a lot of admiration for people who dedicate themselves to history.'' Speaking of jazz tradition, she said, ``It's a good foundation for me. For some people it's an end; for me it's a means.''
Playing with so many accomplished musicians hasn't fazed Carrington a bit. To her, it was all a normal part of growing up.
``You know,'' she says, ``when you're young, you don't have the same inhibitions that adults have. The only thing I can say is that it was fun. I can't imagine what it would have been like without it, because it's never been any different.''
Carrington considers herself fortunate, because she had a great musical education, both in performance and at Berklee - and, she says, ``After age 16 I made all my own decisions.'' Until then, her father, saxophonist Sonny Carrington, acted as her manager and arranged for her to sit in with visiting jazz musicians in and around Boston. He had started her off on saxophone at a tender age, but she soon laid the instrument aside for the drums.
In 1981, Terry Lyne made her first album, ``TLC and Friends,'' which featured pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Buster Williams, and saxophonist George Coleman. In its review, the Boston Globe commented on Carrington's ``impressive musicianship.''
She moved to New York in 1983, where she met and played with Stan Getz, Lester Bowie, James Moody, and many others. In 1987 she toured with Wayne Shorter and appeared on his latest album, ``Joy Ryder.''
Now, with so many musical experiences behind her, Carrington has used her new album as a showcase for her ever-widening musical tastes. It features such guest artists as guitarists John Scofield and Carlos Santana, saxophonists Wayne Shorter and Grover Washington, Jr., and keyboardist/ vocalist Patrice Rushen. In addition to playing drums and writing most of the songs, Carrington sings for the first time on it.
``Actually, my musical taste has never really changed,'' she says. ``I've always liked different styles of music.'' But when she was younger she felt that she was ``stereotyped, pigeon-holed. I kept wanting to play different things, and when you want something, you zero in on it and you do it.''
Not only was Carrington a child prodigy; she was, and is, one of the very few female drummers in jazz - or in any kind of music, for that matter. But as in every other aspect of her career, she takes that in stride, too.
`` Today women, and children too, are portrayed as heroes,'' she says, ``like in the movie `Aliens.' I don't make big deal of the issue that women are playing music. I'm happy to see people doing what they want.''