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[OPIRG-EVENTS] Women in Jazz Panel Discussion, Friday July 25 at noon, NAC
Women in Jazz Panel DiscussionJoin us for the
first-ever Women in Jazz panel discussion, held
Friday, July 25 at 12:00 noon at the NAC's Fourth
Stage. Admission is free.
The panel discussion will centre on a number of
important questions concerning women in jazz: Are they
taken seriously enough? Are different criteria used to
evaluate female jazz artists? Are female artists
getting the exposure they deserve? Are they treated
differently in North America and Europe?
The panel, moderated by CBC Radio's Alan Neal, will
Maria Schneider (New York). Composer and conductor of
the Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra. Described by Time
magazine as "the most important woman in jazz."
Katie Malloch (Montreal). Host of CBC Radio‚s Jazz
Jeri Brown (Halifax). Considered one of the finest
jazz vocalists. Has performed with Ellis Marsalis,
Billy Taylor and Dizzy Gillespie.
Tena Palmer (Ottawa, Nova Scotia). Best known to
Ottawa audiences as singer for Chelsea Bridge.
Christine Jensen (Montreal). Critically acclaimed alto
saxophonist. Has built a reputation on both the
Canadian and international jazz scene as musician and
Randall Ware (Ottawa). Since 1990, has been
programming jazz at the National Library of Canada,
offering Ottawa‚s only year-round jazz concert series.
James Hale (Ottawa). Regular contributor to DownBeat,
Coda and Planet Jazz.
Jazz ’03 proudly salutes Women in Jazz
By James Hale
Long considered the great American experiment in
democracy – informally desegregated long before Jackie
Robinson broke the “colour line” in sports – jazz
harbours a dirty secret concerning the role that women
have played in its 100-year evolution. Aside from
singers, whose role was tightly circumscribed on the
bandstand and in the studio, women were systematically
excluded from participating as equals – regardless of
ability. Today, although you are still more likely to
find photogenic singers like Jane Monheit, Norah Jones
and Diana Krall than their less-glamorous sisters on
the covers of jazz publications, things are changing,
thanks to shifting social values and a generation of
female musicians who demand to be heard.
Any survey of women in jazz would be wanting without a
roll call of those who paid the cost of lost gigs,
missed opportunities and stifled dreams inside the
music business prior to the 1970s. There’s no better
place to start than Mary Lou Williams, whose
compositions were performed by Benny Goodman, Louis
Armstrong and Duke Ellington but who never found fame
on their level. Although a brilliant pianist, she
remains overshadowed by a number of influential men
she tutored at the keyboard. Hazel Scott was another
first-rate pianist, enrolled at Julliard at age eight
and the host of her own radio program at 16. Arguably
the equal of Oscar Peterson, she is far better known
as the wife of controversial black leader Adam Clayton
Powell than as a musician. North Dakota native Mary
Osborne is a vital link between guitarists Charlie
Christian and Wes Montgomery, yet she spent her prime
years in anonymity, working as CBS’s house guitarist
until she dropped out of jazz altogether to teach in
1962. Vi Redd, a highly lyrical alto saxophonist from
the Charlie Parker school, was another talented player
who dropped out of the game to pursue a teaching
career – a more traditional role for women. Sadly,
there are hundreds more you won’t find in the pages of
most historical studies of jazz.
Looking at the field of older women who remain active
in jazz it’s still easy to point to musicians like
pianist Joanne Brackeen – a contemporary of Herbie
Hancock and Chick Corea with a fraction of their
notoriety – and wonder why jazz turned its back on
women when it was so open to men with personality
quirks and chemical addictions that made them pariahs
outside of music.
Author and scholar Angela Davis stated it eloquently
at a 2002 panel convened in San Francisco to study the
issue: “Jazz (is) the last artform to recognize the
significance of feminism. At the beginning of the 21st
century, jazz women are still considered the
exception. Even though there are vast numbers of women
of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds playing jazz
on every instrument and in every genre, women continue
to be purged from the jazz imagination, except as
vocalists or sometimes pianists.”
Fellow scholar Sherrie Tucker, whose book Swing Shift
examines the phenomenon of the all-woman bands of the
‘40s, echoed Davis’s comments: “How is it possible to
still imagine jazz (without women)? How is it that we
can have a 19-hour documentary on the history of jazz
where women are not musicians? There were women in Ken
Burns’s JAZZ, but they served to construct the male
jazz hero in the roles of bad wives, bad mothers,
prostitutes and as vocalists who were not so much
musicians as tragic women.”
It is not surprising that Burns’s film missed the
contributions of important contemporary women
instrumentalists like Carla Bley, Toshiko Akiyoshi,
Maria Schneider and Jane Bunnett since his narrative
stops with the rise of jazz-rock fusion in the early
‘70s. It was only as acoustic music began to re-assert
itself in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s that a new crop
of women began to assume leadership roles. Both Bley
and Akiyoshi led highly influential orchestras that
attracted many of their best male peers as
contributors, opening the door for Schneider, who
inherited the role of orchestral wizard from her
former mentor, Gil Evans. Players like Bley also
pointed the way for other women like Brackeen, Amina
Claudine Myers and Jane Ira Bloom, who in turn were
joined by a younger generation, including drummers
Cindy Blackman, Terri Lyne Carrington and Susie
Ibarra, alto saxophonist Christine Jensen and her
trumpeter sister, Ingrid.
Certainly, the feminist movement in general played a
role in changing the attitudes of all involved: male
musicians, managers, record companies executives,
critics and magazine editors included. More
importantly, though, young women like Ibarra,
Schneider, Bunnett and the Jensens began to assert
their right to express themselves through their music
and have it heard. Ibarra, a Filipino-American who
grew up in Texas, took inspiration from her mother,
who had challenged the norm for women of her
generation and entered medical school at age 16.
Schneider, a native of Minnesota who studied at the
Eastman School of Music, was encouraged by Gil Evans’s
example to strike out on her own and refuse to
sublimate her musical vision to the will of others.
Bunnett, a freethinker and tenacious iconoclast who
was bounced from several high schools in Toronto
before finding a place in music, believes passionately
in the power of improvisation as expression. Still,
she’s highly pragmatic when it comes to what it takes
to make it in the music business.
"There’s still a quota system when it comes to women.
I’ve tried to get into festivals and been told, ‘We
already have our woman headliner.’ It makes you
She worries that many young women still don’t get the
opportunities that come to their male counterparts.
"If you’re as talented and as serious as musicians
like Ingrid Jensen or Renee Rosnes you can break down
the barriers that are there. I think that when you
look at the women who are able to make a living in
jazz, which is a very marginalized art, it’s still
true that you have to be twice as good if you’re a
Twice as good, that is, if you want to play things by
the old rules. Increasingly, young women – and men –
are finding new ways to express themselves through
jazz and reach an audience.
Ingrid Jensen has been vocal about wanting to break
the tried-and-true model. She openly shuns the
industry machinery that puts provocatively posed
singers on the covers of jazz magazines.
"When I see one of those magazines feature a woman
like that I just feel really sad. A lot of the young
players I meet at clinics these days don’t buy into
that at all. They don’t care if their trumpet player
is female or if the guitarist is gay or the drummer is
a lesbian. It’s all about the music for them."
The more these young players – musicians like the
expressive Toronto-based trumpeter Lina Allemano and
the remarkable violist Tanya Kalmanovitch – move into
the public eye on their own terms, the more those who
remain tied to tradition will be forced to either
recognize them as equals or make a legitimate stand
against them. Combined with the exceptionally strong
field of women singers on the scene today – ranging
from promising newcomers like Ottawa native Leah State
through established stars like Cassandra Wilson to
polished veterans like Sheila Jordan – the powerful
corps of female instrumentalists is well positioned to
institute long-overdue and lasting change to the face
James Hale is a regular contributor to DownBeat, Coda
and Planet Jazz.
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