Catherine Ford spoke to Andrea Vicari: jazz pianist, composer and jazz educator, about herself, jazz education and the extent to which the gender imbalance in jazz is changing.
Catherine Ford: Tell us about what you do as a performer and educator.
Andrea Vicari: I play jazz piano and compose, regularly performing with ‘Jazz Extempore’, vocalist Trudy Kerr, saxophonist Mornington Lockett and my own band. I also work at Trinity Laban for the jazz department and teach jazz piano and coach small bands, as well as my role as musical director for the Dordogne Jazz Summer school.
CF: Who/what inspired you?
AV: My inspiration for where I am today comes partly from my background (my father was a jazz pianist) and my participation in the Midland youth Jazz Orchestra as a teenager. I was also drawn to jazz music because of the emphasis on improvisation and also the type of rhythm and harmony.
In terms of female role models, I was inspired by Barbara Thompson in the early 80’s. Pianists such as John Taylor and Django Bates and bands such as ‘Loose Tubes’ also had a big influence.
CF: What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
AV: The best piece of advice I was given was from a great bassist, Dill Katz, who told me to be confident with my playing and to enjoy the music.
CF: You have been doing some research around women in jazz?
AV: As part of my work at Trinity Laban I have been researching the gender imbalance in jazz courses (Higher education). Much of the findings show that few females audition for music college and so less are accepted. It is what precedes the audition process in terms of jazz education and experience that is most influential on whether women decide to audition and ultimately study jazz at degree level. At Trinity Laban despite our current numbers of female instrumentalists being at the highest they have ever been, they are still only at 9%. As a result we are in the process of designing strategies to develop female access including a women only ‘taster day’.
CF: What do you think are some of the reasons for this gender imbalance in jazz?
AV: In terms of why less females are attracted to playing jazz there are numerous thoughts and opinions on this but ultimately it probably comes down to culture where girls are often seen as vocalists (most pronounced in ‘pop’ music), parental influence and female behaviour in the early/mid teenage years which is all to do with ‘fitting in’ and not standing out so much as an individual. This last point confirms Dr A Alexander’s research that “the female tendency to define herself based on interaction […] is at odds with the individualistic essence of jazz improvisation.” *
There are many other reasons why few women are seen on the professional bandstand – having a family, lack of role models, poorly paid gigs etc., but for me personally, I have been lucky enough to have a partner who has taken on the responsibility of the looking after our children. This, coupled with an absolute love of the music I make, has meant I have been able to make a mark on the jazz scene in the UK.
CF: Are things getting better and are there more opportunities/support networks for girls to explore jazz?
AV: There are lots of girls attending courses at the moment and the overall number of women in jazz is improving but we are still a long way off 50/50. Youth jazz groups like “Tomorrow’s Warriors” take students from as young as 10 to beyond college age and try to help them integrate into professional life as musicians. NYJO Academy now has an all-girls band and the National Youth Jazz Collective move to promote jazz to young girls and report an increase in numbers of females participating in the Youth Music summer school, which is encouraging. It remains to be seen the extent to which segregating young girls and encouraging them to experiment with improvisation in an all-female environment can boost the number of female jazz instrumentalists.
Catherine Ford: What do you think of International Women’s Day and what would be the best thing to result from it?
Andrea Vicari: I think just more high profile events would be great. Maybe even a jazz festival featuring world-class players from all over the world!
Now there’s an idea….!
* Dr Ariel Alexander, saxophonist, composer and educator, LA, wrote an article, “Where are the Girls?” for The Jazz Educator’s Magazine in 2011. Read it HERE
Andrea is on tour with JazzExtempore Orchestra in September. She has various London gigs in April, more information HERE