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The Shape of Jazz to Come

25/06/2020

Women have been part of jazz from its beginning. It's a rich but complicated story framed by limited opportunity mixed with unwritten rules, sexism, and benign neglect. None of this is surprising: Generous as jazz can be, as an art it both reflects and shapes the society that produces it.

We live in a patriarchal society, and that patriarchal thread has run through this music as well, says Terri Lyne Carrington, drummer and producer, as well as the artistic director of the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice.

She founded the institute to explore a fundamental question: What would jazz sound like in a culture without patriarchy? The question has surfaced at a moment in which society seems open to an important set of conversations and institutional changes, says Farah Jasmine Griffin, a Columbia University professor who has written extensively about issues of race, gender, feminism, and cultural politics, and who sits on the institute's advisory board.

JJA Jazz Award Winners

Terri Lyne Carrington, Kris Davis, and Linda Han Oh each won awards this year from the Jazz Journalists Association.

Oh, I dont know that jazz is any worse on these issues than many other parts of our culture, says Griffin, who is also the author of If You Can't Be Free, Be a Mystery: In Search of Billie Holiday, and collaborated with the late composer and pianist Geri Allen on theatrical projects. But I've always felt that because jazz is so capacious and its always been historically at the forefront of social change and modeling social change, jazz would be a great place to try and do something like [the institute] to really kind of challenge our notions of gender norms.

Jazz is not the only genre with a troubled relationship with female musicians. According to a December New York Times story ( When an Orchestra Was No Place for a Woman ), the Berlin Philharmonic first admitted a woman in 1982, and women could not audition for the Vienna Philharmonic until 1997. Women still make up less than half of most orchestras in Europe and the United States, the article states. And traditionally, it notes, they have been channeled into three roles: pianists, harpists, and vocalists.

Likewise, jazz has long accepted women as singers or pianists, but often treated other female instrumentalists with hostility if they tried to claim a place on the bandstand. Economics played a role in what has always been a fierce competition for precious few good jobs, whatever the musical realm. But money wasn't the only factor.

In her book Stormy Weather: The Music and Lives of a Century of Jazzwomen, author Linda Dahl writes that the notion that certain musical forms or instruments are unfeminine' appears to be old as music itself. Indeed, says Carrington, Instruments have been gendered.

Another factor that has excluded women from jazz, especially early on, is safety. The places where the genre flourished were often dangerous for women to frequent, such as brothels, nightclubs, and speakeasies rife with an assortment of vices.

So, for starters, the jazz life was a challenging life, and young women probably weren't encouraged to pursue it. That was a world that was seen as a man's world, Griffin, the professor, says, adding that any woman willing to put up with this environment also had to prove that she was more gifted than her male counterparts.

The stories of female jazz pioneers at the time reflect these prejudices and circumstances. I had to prove myself just like Jackie Robinson, the trombonist and arranger Melba Liston, who wrote for and played in big bands in the 1940s through the 1960s, told Dahl.

Decades later, saxophonist Adison Evans, a member of Arturo O'Farrill's Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra and Beyonc 's touring band (2009-2015), contends with some of the same attitudes. Evans is sometimes assumed to be the singer in the band when she's not carrying her horn. And she's had to deal with situations her male colleagues never had to face.

I remember how, early on, when it came time to pay me at the end of the night, this one guy told me, Oh, no, let me take you out to dinner instead.' What?! That was my introduction to that type of behavior. It was a difficult pill to swallow . This guy wont pay me because he thinks that Im going to go out to dinner with him? Why? I did a service. I played the saxophone. Im 29 years old now, and I can say that there has to be mutual respect with anybody I work with. Otherwise, I won't be around.

Early Messages Changing such behavior is challenging because attitudes are often shaped early in life and later replicated as if in a hall of mirrors, affecting every interaction.

Composer, arranger, and conductor Maria Schneider, a multiple Grammy winner and National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master, says she has responded to perceptions about women in jazz by being oblivious to them. Her personal history, which included having strong female role models, is part of the reason she was able to ignore chauvinist attitudes.

Schneider is from Windom, a small town in Minnesota. She grew up with sisters who painted and acted, and had women mentors. Schneider credits her musical approach, which blurs the lines between jazz and classical music, to her studies as a child with Evelyn Butler, a stride, boogie-woogie, and classical pianist from Chicago who taught her by moving freely from improvising on Cole Porter's tunes to playing Bach.

Schneider's father also helped shape her self-image. Growing up, I spent a lot of time with men because my dad had three girls, she recalled. I was the youngest one, and my dad, who was a duck hunter, had wanted a boy to duck hunt. So, by the time I was eight, he had given me a 20-gauge shotgun and I was going hunting, and [these men] never treated me differently.
LINK: https://www.berklee.edu/news/berklee-now/shape-jazz-come?ss=213221...
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