Women are making future jazz history — despite seldom showing up in top high school band competitions. My new column in City Arts – New York’s Review of Culture, has local names and immediate dates; jazz gender parity is a slow movement but my bet is it’s irreversible.
Having heard Cassandra Wilson last night at the Blue Note perform in control and thrilling with her band — as Betty Carter used to do — I’m tempted to think singers are still the point people persuading listeners that females swing hard and improvise brilliantly. But from Geri Allen to Jamie Baum to Cindy Blackman to Carla Bley to Jane Ira Bloom to JoAnn Brackeen to Sylvie Courvoisier to Marilyn Crispell to Connie Crothers to Claire Daly to Amina Figarova to Mary Halvorson (and Jessica Pavone) to Ingrid Jensen to Virginia Mayhew to Myra Melford to Allison Miller to Nicole Mitchell to Amina Claudine Myers to Linda Oh to Tineke Postma to Matana Roberts to Angelica Sanchez to Irene Schweizer to Jenny Scheinman to Sara Schoenbeck to way more than these springing immediately to mind, there are enough highly evolved, deeply creative bandleading pianists, drummers, guitarists, trumpeters, saxophonists, bassists– did everyone see that New Yorker profile of Esperanza Spalding? — to encourage young people that instrumental prowess is not a strictly male prerogative, and nor should anyone want it to be. (I’m pushing this less as a sensitive guy than because I assume all humans are musical to some degree, and I want to hear the best, not only the best men).
It is a major concern of mine and we have a session on it
at the upcoming JEN conf in St. Louis. WHY does it exist? I believe
it starts way back to the day when a young girl picks up an instrument and is
not encouraged (in general) to play trumpet, trombone, drums, bass….jazz
instruments. Notice the girls are almost always on piano and sax.
Then you add to the fact that the women students mostly
have male band directors as they go into HS where active jazz programs are . . .
I thought that just being a good example of an active
female jazz band director would be enough . . . but it hasn’t been. The odds
still are not that good. One thing for certain, we must encourage, nurture, empower young women with the confidence they need to succeed in jazz
performance. I spoke last weekend to the only girl in the National Honors
Jazz Band of America in Indy [Indiana] and I asked her what it
was like….she said, “I am not used to being the only girl playing in a
jazz band so I was shocked that I was. Yes, I was intimidated at
first…but after getting to know them and playing with them, I am one of them. It’s all cool now.”