REPORT: Making the Changes: a powerful symposium for women in jazz

The poster for Making the Changes featured the band Interchange
Back Row L-R Brigitte Beraha, Yazz Ahmed Corrina Silvester, Helena Kay, Charlie Pyne
Front Row:Carol Jarvis, Tori Freestone, Karen Street, Issie Barratt, Shirley Smart

Making the Changes was a symposium on December 17 2017 held at the Southbank Centre, organised by ISSIE BARRATT and presented by the Centre and by the UK Women’s Jazz Collective. 70 women met to create a network, identify barriers facing them in the jazz industry, celebrate success stories and assemble working parties to move things forward. Mary James attended and reports:

“Now that I’ve seen the ridiculous gender imbalance [in jazz], I cannot unsee. I see and hear sexism on a daily basis.” So said a well-known male instrumentalist via email to Issie Barratt, the organiser of the symposium. Over 70 women met at the Southbank Centre on 17 December 2017 to discuss the issues they face in the music industry and to identify positive action that all (men and women) can contribute to as well as sharing (across the day) numerous examples of “positive action” that had succeeded in implementing change with more gender balanced outcomes.

They also heard of success stories such as the Help Musicians UK Jazz Promoters Fellowships, and ambitions of the three attending funding bodies to phase out women-only funding (such as Women Make Music) within a few years in an era of gender-balanced funding applications. Help Musicians UK intends to develop a National Mentoring Bank and have 50-50 shares on all applications and grant panels by 2021.

Statistics (assembled by Issie Barratt in 2016) were stark – of 200 jazz instrumental professorial seats at 6 of the UK’s 7 conservatoires, only 8 were held by women; fewer than 6% of jazz instrumentalists studying at conservatoires were women; and in 25 years of a major award, only 2 out of 27 recipients had been women (Fortunately, thanks to the award organisers proactively spreading their net and widening their reach the outcome of this year’s award was markedly different, as 55% (6/11) of 2017’s BAND LEADERS THAT MADE IT THROUGH TO THE FINAL ROUND were women) . One speaker spoke of the invisibility of structural privilege that supports this imbalance.

Examples of artistic and educational jazz programmes that signed up to a 50:50 gender balance and the positive outcomes include Northern Line and Jazz North Introduces. In a wide-ranging day several issues stood out:

Feeling an outsider – and the mental challenges when often the only woman in the band, or a female leader, or at a jam. Help Musicians UK recently launched Music Minds Matter to support everyone in the music industry where issues of bullying and depression are rife. This is a joined-up scheme that offers advice and support (through a 24-hour help link) and signposts the way to treatment and funding.

Being heard – blind submission (the anonymising of music presented to promoters and conservatories) is already used in the classical world, at BASCA and Jazz at the Lincoln Center. It would be interesting to see what a panel of jazz journalists would choose if they were subjected to such an experiment.

Being seen and read about – the visual under-representation of women jazz musicians in the jazz print media, and as writers and critics. To discourage stereotyping, women are encouraged to have high quality photographs and text and to insist via their contracts that this image/text is used in publicity. Women should be aware of long print deadlines and not leave publicity too late. And more women could be encouraged to write about jazz.

Raising awareness – days such as this create a community, enabling more women to work together with other female jazz musicians (musically and politically – rather than remaining the lone woman in the band or dealing with gender issues in isolation), encouraging women to apply for funding, having mixed panels at all industry events and festival promotion teams, widening the net by talking about ethnicity and diversity issues alongside gender.

Numerous working parties will be set up in the new year – Including how to help redress the gender imbalance in the conservatoires, festival and gig programming and in the media and tackling bullying/harassment (in conjunction with the MU).

UK Womens Jazz Collective on Spotify

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