What do women want (of jazz clubs)?

Why don’t women feel welcome as jazz listeners? My posting hit a nerve with Facebook “friends” and commentors including ArtsJournal’s Mind the Gap blog, which takes up the issue of “comfort when it comes to experiencing art” and rightly understands I was thinking more about “psychic comfort” than anything limited to the physical.

What about it, readers — how much are you willing to suffer to hear what you want?
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  1. Terri Hinte says

    Comfort & safety are important parts of going out to hear music – & doing many other things too! But getting to the heart of your question about the lack of women in jazz clubs, or in the jazz audience: we need more women players, & that means starting girls out young, with lots of support from female role models who can demonstrate that making jazz music is something a girl can do – & that women can & should do. IMO we are 2-3 generations away from approaching possible parity in this area.
    HM: Thinking on it — maybe comfort *is* over-rated, cf. CBGB’s among various rock venues that have attracted women attendance despite/because of grunge. Of course women conveying to other women that jazz is something women “can & should do” is key. If a mom, sister, aunt, neighbor, teacher, friend is playing or listening for demonstrably positive reasons, that’s got to make more of a difference than if just anybody tells you it’s the right thing to do.
    Still, men encouraging/accepting women can’t hurt. My inner hippie shouts: Everybody should encourage everybody to play! But really, many musicians have spoken in interviews of their mentors and models, influential cross-gender; men have as often told me of women who’ve guided them (and who they learned to play for, in attempts to attract/impress) as often as guiding guys, and women have often mentioned their fathers’ interests as sparking their own, or giving them basic exposure to/claim on music they found they loved.
    Two-three generations for parity, huh? Wasn’t it just a hundred years ago that “cultured” American and European women were expected to have some hands-on familiarity with a musical instrument? What happened?

  2. says

    DITA: I haven’t found that women are that interested in jazz outside of a social context. I’ve always gone to see artists I like whether or not I have company, but most women don’t like to go out alone.
    GARY: . . .Dita has a good point about women and going out alone but on the other hand, if women had women jazz friends, they’d not have to go out alone. I don’t often go to a show (jazz or otherwise) alone, either.
    But I’ve been a jazz guy for forty years and from my observations at live jazz events, there are more women now than there was in the past, and, depending on the event, a wider age spread….Also, in terms of live jazz, the demographic changes depending on the musicians, what subgenre of jazz it is, what event, and also what venue.
    Things aren’t cut and dried. I was amazed recently when I went out to hear Peter Brotzman in Lexington, KY, of all places, at the number of people there and wide variation agewise and genderwise. Plenty of women there and young people, too. It would have been a very respectable turnout anywhere, New York included. I have no way of knowing how many of them knew what they were getting into but there was only one walkout.
    DUCK: I agree that when you get into the freer forms the gender gap narrows. You get into the truly Bohemian world, it’s only natural that a high percentage of the audience is artistic in some way or other, so you’ll have more dancers, writers, artists, and lots of them will be women. I’m glad to hear that this imbalance might be changing – we all want it to!
    KELVIN: I’d choose exposure over marketing any day of the week. Some years ago, Les Paul analyzed audiences for me by the day of the week. I’d have to find my notes, but I remember it being surprisingly accurate. He talked about traditional date nights (weekends obviously) as opposed to, say, Mondays, when musicians had the night off and might come out and hang with whomever was working. Actually, I wonder what Lorraine Gordon [Village Vanguard proprietor] would have to say about this, because I think I remember her saying she noticed that Japanese women didn’t seem to have any qualms coming to the club by themselves, in pairs or whatever. Obviously, none of this is scientific.

  3. Terri Hinte says

    Male mentors are very important, and I’ve had a couple myself, for which I’m grateful! But we are so not there yet when it comes to balance. Women producers: can you name any? Besides the late Helen Keane? (who had to fight tooth and nail for credit and recognition.)
    Re hands-on familiarity with a musical instrument: I had years of piano lessons. That’s not the same as pursuing a path as a professional musician – obviously.
    Very complicated and thorny issues here, Howard. Thanks for poking at the rattlesnake.

  4. Ann Braithwaite says

    Terry and Howard are right about playing an instrument as an avenue into jazz. I got into jazz because I was playing classical clarinet in the high school band and some of my (male) friends were in the jazz band. They took me out to see folks like Sun Ra (sneaking out after curfew on a band trip to Philly), Zoot Sims, and many others and helped me to develop a passion for the music. Many women – and men, too, for that matter – haven’t had the chance to hear jazz and don’t think they like it. Most don’t know the great variety of the music and if given a chance would certainly find something to like. I invite friends to hear jazz all the time; the ones who tend to really appreciate it are those who already have an artistic bent and ones from other countries.
    But a little exposure can go a long way. I once took a friend and her son to an outdoor concert by Lester Bowie; they went kicking and screaming. She liked it a lot and the boy was so captivated them that they still talk about it to this day. So more woman players, more folks bringing friends to hear music, more opportunities to hear it in a variety of settings. Bands such as Either/Orchestra and MMW who’ve got broader audiences, toured extensively and played ALL kinds of clubs – jazz, rock, performing arts centers – as they built their reputations and I do see many women at their concerts.

  5. says

    • To answer Terri: a few more women producers: Nobuko Cobi Narita, the recently-passed Rosetta Reitz. If clubs “count,” you’d have to include Lorraine Gordon and the late Queva Lutz. And of course there are women producing on a small scale (house concerts, that sort of thing).
    Are women uncomfortable going to jazz clubs? I suppose it can still be uncomfortable for a woman to go into any bar by herself, but I don’t know if it’s any more difficult to go to jazz clubs, specifically. Is it the clubs that are the problem? Is it the music? The way the players relate (or don’t relate) to the audience?
    • Many people still think of jazz as a man’s world, and assume women musicians are singers or maybe pianists. And there’s still machismo within the jazz world, but that will diminish with each passing generation, as the current youngsters become the elders, and all the musicians have been schooled in the academy instead of on the bandstand and the road. Of course, how all that “book learnin'” is affecting the music is another subject entirely!