As equality for women continues to be encouraged within jazz, the face of the industry is notably starting to shift. In response, many women are starting to grow their own platforms to support and share female success in the business. For International Women’s Day, vocalist Lauren Bush is putting a spotlight on some of these women who are using their voices for good within jazz.
Throughout history, the world of jazz has always been mostly an “old boys club”. And while I think women would agree that it has always been harder to prove our worthiness on the bandstand, things might be improving! Jazz is supposed to be a safe space for self-expression – inclusive and available to all – and, as strong women forge the path, we are hopefully leaving this idea that gender has any part to play in talent behind.
This list of female platforms, organisations and creative outputs is by no means exhaustive. This is merely scratching the surface and I would encourage each reader to contribute to the list if they can think of any bad-ass boss ladies who deserve recognition for their contributions. As more women are encouraged to share their unique experiences, the opportunities are endless…
First up is probably the most obvious – British organisation Women in Jazz co-founded by Lou Paley (read full IWD interview HERE) and Nina Fine. Their website states that only 5% of jazz instrumentalists are women in the UK today and their goal is to change that.
Women in Jazz has a few different avenues that are helping pave the way for female artists. They have a digital channel on Youtube called Uncovered that showcases the top female artists in jazz. The first one, released last month, spotlights singer/songwriter Celeste. To celebrate IWD, their next feature is on drummer Jas Kayser where she talks about working with her teacher and mentor Terri Lynn Carrington.
This community has grown to over 8k supporters and includes everyone from emerging artists in jazz to record labels, festivals, music venues and publishers, all of whom share the vision of solving gender parity in UK Jazz. Their career development programme is focused on helping artists get to the next stages of their careers and has seen great success. This is a community worth joining.
WIJO’s mission is “to help level the playing field in jazz, so that women and non-binary people have equal opportunity to participate in and contribute to jazz, leading to an improved and more rich, diverse, and successful art form” and to also be “committed to honouring Black Americans as the creators of jazz.”
They have a mentorship program which is meant to provide strong role models to female jazz musicians and composers at the collegiate level in a safe and supportive environment. It also offers a way for established jazz musicians and composers on the scene to actively participate in and help shape the future of their art form.
While this group is largely a New York City-based organisation, they make efforts to connect to other individuals and groups nationally and internationally.
Women in Podcasts
Sisters in the Shadows is hosted by actress and singer Collette Cooper, whose own singing style is heavily influenced by early jazz and blues singers like Bessie Smith and Big Mama Thorton. On the podcast, Colette invites an array of guests (male and female, musicians and media friends) to share their own experiences in the jazz world and pay tribute to the women who came first – Billie Holiday, Elis Regina, Sarah Vaughan and even Janis Joplin – to name a few.
Dear Music is presented by Emma Hatton, a powerhouse singer known for her role as Elphaba in the West End production of Wicked as well as for touring with Post Modern Jukebox and supporting Jools Holland. Her podcast is described as a way to explore “our collective love affair with music”. Emma is utilising her platform to share all the different ways that music can lift our souls, help us through tough times and play a role in our lives that is more than just entertainment. Especially during the pandemic, while people are desperate for therapeutic ways to cope with loss, whether due to losing loved ones from Covid or losing the life we’re used to as artists and performers, this podcast is a heartwarming tonic.
Journeys in Jazz is a collection of interviews conducted by tenor saxophonist Fliss Gorst. As a female instrumentalist, Fliss may have struggled to stand out in her industry, but she holds her own on the sax and has embraced the role of band leader to the point that her community adores her. She makes friends with everyone and, as a result, has a massive pool of talented colleagues that she features. She has uncovered some fascinating gems, like Enrico Tomasso’s stories about his mentor, Louis Armstrong. Some are spotlights on other female artists, like bassist Charlie Pyne and vocalist Sara Dowling, and she has also been able to capture some of the memories of jazz legends like nonagenarian Jack Honeyborne. A new series of Journeys is hopefully in the works for 2021.
A new organisation, started towards the end of 2020 by vocalist, composer and journalist Fiona Ross (read full IWD interview HERE), WIJM started out as a community to support women working in jazz media as journalists, photographers, promoters, etc. Over the past few months, it has really taken off and is already expanding its remit to support and champion all women within the jazz industry, working towards a safe, healthy and equal environment for all. Its mission statement is to “promote and celebrate women who work in jazz media; encourage and support a more diverse jazz community; create a healthy and supportive environment for women who work in jazz media; and encourage collaborative thinking and mutual support within the jazz community.”
Blow the Fuse Music was awarded the All Party Parliamentary Jazz Awards for ‘Services to Jazz’ in 2020. 2019 celebrated 30 years of the organisation, started by musicians and composers Deirdre Cartwright and Alison Rayner. These women raise awareness of the challenges that female jazz musicians face by giving support and performance opportunities. Their initiative Tomorrow the Moon: One Small Step for Women, which started in 2012, has featured young artists like trumpeters Laura Jurd and Yazz Ahmed, bassist Flo Moore and saxophonists Camilla George and Nubya Garcia to list just a few. They run a record label under their name and help manage tours, new music works and educational projects in London to shed light on some of the amazing female talent that deserves attention. Their new project, Blow the Fuse: ON AIR, is a series of online concerts funded by Arts Council of England and streamed from the Vortex Jazz Club. Click here to join their newsletter for upcoming shows – online and hopefully in person soon.
Last but not least, this online concert is worth mentioning. It’s highlighting a few of the unforgettable women in jazz history who have helped clear a path for those to come. Singing with the band always seemed like the “appropriate” place for women within jazz, but if it weren’t for these talented individuals standing up for women in the early stages of the music, who knows where we’d be now?
In America, the whole month of March is Women’s History Month so Jazz at Lincoln Center are taking this opportunity to deliver a new concert called Voices of Freedom: Betty Carter, Billie Holiday, Abbey Lincoln, and Nina Simone. The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis will feature some of the US’s most powerful voices – Melanie Charles, Shenel Johns and Ashley Pezzotti – as they pay tribute to these remarkable vocal jazz legends. A concert not to miss.
I have to thank all of these fabulous women for bothering to set aside their time, for being brave leaders, for celebrating the successes of their fellow female musicians and setting the standard; I must say again that this list is just a small cross section of women and organisations that are leading the way for women in jazz. There are many others whose contributions deserve recognition or appreciation. Please remember to take the time to share an initiative that you think could use a plug – a retweet, share, highlight, hashtag or even a round of applause.