When it comes to jazz, a violin might not be the first instrument that comes to mind.
But when it comes to current jazz violinists, Regina Carter should be one of the first names that pops up.
Having carved out a solo career after backing up some of music’s most popular vocalists, Carter will perform Thursday at the Heymann Center in Lafayette.
Carter will perform songs from her new “Southern Comfort” album, which explores folk music of the South, including a Cajun dance song, “Blues De Basile,” written by Dennis McGee and arranged by accordionist Will Holshouser.
“Southern Comfort” reinterprets folk tunes that cover the region, which she researched through her relatives and by poring through folklorist collections housed at the Library of Congress.
One of three children in her Detroit family, Carter began playing the piano at age 2 and received violin lessons at 4 in a class that used the Suzuki method, which did not require children to read music but encouraged them to hear a song and try to mimic the sounds on their violins. In her teens, she played in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra youth division, and took master class lessons from Itzhak Perlman and Yehudi Menuhin.
She studied classical violin at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, then decided to switch to jazz. Since the school did not have that as a program, she transferred to Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan, graduating in 1995, and became active in the Detroit jazz scene.
After collaborating with other jazz instrumentalists and vocalists like Mary J. Blige, Patti Labelle and Wynton Marsalis, Carter produced her first solo album in 1995, and eight more have followed. She has received widespread praise, including for her 1998 performance in New York, which The New York Times lauded.
“She proved something that perhaps didn’t need proving except for the fact that there’s so little current evidence of it: that the violin’s role in deeply swinging jazz is perfectly natural, that it doesn’t necessarily have to give off associations with folk or new-music traditions,” wrote The Times’ Ben Ratliff. “She’s a jazz violinist of great control, improvisational flexibility and wide range.”