For Women in Jazz, a Year of Reckoning and Recognition

Dec 01, 2017 · 34 comments
Elizabeth R Curtiss (Burlington VT)
No mention of the great Diana Krall? Or does her success exclude her from the problem? It is worth noting, though, that her successful public image is as a chanteuse. When she played live here last year, she astounded us with her skill as a jazz pianist and band leader. Indeed, her bio listed many behind-the-scenes accomplishments which indicate that the tiny box in which she is being marketed does not do justice to the scope of her ambitions, her talents, or the impact she could have if represented more honestly.
merkaba22 (Hollywood)
Perhaps better: "Its Ms. Spalding exceptional artistry and force of presence that balanced her realizations in the recording studios environment, among the most male-dominated spaces in the music industry; it might otherwise have only observed her, being the only woman in the room, as an afterthought at best." fyi, imho, ymmv -- love back as always That recording studios are among the most male-dominated spaces in the music industry and Ms. Spalding was often the only woman in the room felt like an afterthought at best.
L Fitzgerald (NYC)
Can you hear it? Pins knocked down. Head of steam building. Jazz this minute. Tomorrow? Looking at you Finance. Thanks for playing.
Renate (WA)
My wish is that we stop at least sometimes to seperate Jazz- (and other) artists in male and female. The NYT seems to be unable to just write about artists without making it a subject of identity-politics. Therefore the perpetuing of the idea that women are a different kind of species (as in the meaning of Beauvoir: women as the second sex) continues. Why can't we read of an inclusive all that Jazz where the quality of the artists work counts?
LF (Brooklyn)
Not sure why you left out “Woman-to-Woman” who played at Montreux Jazz Festival and will be appearing at the 92nd Street Y in March, 2018.
David Frank (New York City)
How can there be no mention of Maria Schneider? Grammy winner, Downbeat Poll winner year after year, leader of the best big band around (ever, to my ears).
Vesuviano (Altadena, California)
While I certainly appreciate Ms. Schneider's music and think highly of both her and her band, I think Duke Ellington's band (And the pieces written by Ellington and Strayhorn) are infinitely superior. I'd also put the bands of Basie, Buddy Rich, Thad Jones & Mel Lewis, and Kenny Clarke & Francy Boland out in front of Ms. Schneider. They all swung harder than I've every heard Ms. Schneider's band swing.
Ryan (NYC)
The US has not only been miserable in encouraging the rise of female jazz musicians, but jazz in general - albeit some fantastic releases made by musicians mentioned here. Looking for scores of quality recordings made by long-established yet forward-thinking great female musicians? Then check out what the avant-garde European jazz labels have released in the past 10-15 years. As many American female jazz musicians have discovered, the European jazz community is ten times more welcoming and has its share of inspiring talent. Joelle Leandre is one my favorite cellists (with a flair for vocalist touches) who has been playing on stage in the world of contemporary music and jazz for 40 yrs, releasing dozens of duet recordings in the past 20 yrs (her duet with the American flutist Nicole Mitchell "Sister Where" is one of my favorites). Lotte Anker, Ingrid Laubrock, Julie Kjaer and Cath Roberts are quality saxophonists with a fresh sound of their own. I could go on and on, but you get my point: If you're looking for outstanding female jazz talent, then start taking a look at what's being played at the European jazz festivals and released on Intakt, NotTwo, RogueArt, Clean Feed and Luminous.
freely (improvised)
just a minor correction -- Joëlle Léandre is a double bassist -- and one of my favorites too! also, a shout out to some of the new generation of saxophonists coming from europe: Virgina Genta, Mette Rasmussen!
jonr (Brooklyn)
Without getting into a further back and forth on this topic, my main point is that I'd like to see the critics of the NYT spending more of their time writing about the many terrific performances and recordings by the female jazz artists. Jazz performers of all sexes and colors have been really hurt by the lack of critical attention paid to this music in New York.
b fagan (chicago)
Thanks for this article. As other commenters said, I've got some listening to do. I got the Jaime Branch record (managed to get the original pigeon-turn vinyl pressing!) and recommend the album and hope for more. Hoping also that the general perception of jazz will open up and reward Branch and many other talented instrumentalists who just happen to be female.
907A (Seattle, WA)
Good start for more prominent reporting of the fine work of women jazz artists and composers. Thank you. Other exceptional jazz women musicians that deserve coverage, too. Composers and instrumentalists such as Maria Schneider, Marion McPartland, Lil Armststrong (yup Pop's wife), Mary Lou Williams, Emily Remler, Mary Ford, Amina Figarova, Anat Cohen, and Eliane Elias. And then there's scores of vocalists.
Renate (WA)
...and especially Irene Schweizer in Piano!
Vesuviano (Altadena, California)
As a sixty-five year old lifelong jazz listener, I'm not sure I can adequately express myself with regard to the state of jazz today. If it isn't dead, it's seriously ill, and nothing I've read in this article indicates any new degree of vitality. I wouldn't cross the street to listen to Ethan Iverson, but I would cross the street to avoid hearing Robert Glasper. I don't think I care to read anything either one of them has to say. Their music says it all. Women in jazz have always been treated abysmally. The stories told by Melba Liston, for example, make for very depressing reading. But in spite of the abusive treatment throughout the business, some women thrived: Shirley Scott, Emily Remler, Mary Lou Williams, Marian McPartland, Shirley Horn, and others. Women players have always been there. But seriously, I can't see any of my jazz heroes - Bill Evans, Tommy Flanagan, Lester Young, Duke Ellington, asking the crowd to hum a single note as they improvised, or having everyone in the room sing in "spontaneous harmony", whatever that is. Jazz at its best has always been about the tunes. They used to come from Broadway, movies, or from the artists themselves, and the best ones formed a canon that will live forever. Broadway and movies have pretty much dried up as a source of songs for jazz, and if anyone in jazz has written the next immortal standard, I've missed it. Good luck to the women in this article. They deserve better, and always have.
bjensenjazz (Seattle, WA)
Actually, Lee Konitz for several years now has had his audiences hum a “D” as he performs “Alone Together”. I was at his Portland Jazz Festival concert a few years ago where he did that and even encouraged some improvising from a few willing audience members. There are a few videos on YouTube (usually with pianist Dan Tepfer) as well.
Nuria (New Orleans )
Appreciate the recommendations of underheard artists. Some of my favorite female jazz artists: the incomparable Carla Bley, her daughter Karen Mantler, Myra Melford, Sylvie Courvoisier, Ikue Mori, Susie Ibarra, Annie Gosfield, Patricia Barber, Ig Henneman.
Another Female Saxophonist (USA)
Thank you, NYT, for covering jazz. We (women) have always been there. It would be nice to get out of the “ever emerging” category.
EE (Canada)
Wow, that Sasha Berliner blog post the article mentioned/linked really captures the experience of being a female player in the jazz world. Take a read, if you haven't already. What an eye-opener. Thanks for this article. I have some listening to do!
Dan Stackhouse (NYC)
Remarkable, I had no idea women were allowed to play jazz. Sing with a jazz band, sometimes, but playing an instrument? Who had ever heard of such a thing? Funny too that jazz stayed patriarchal and shunned women long after its child, rock and roll, let women do whatever they wanted to do.
mshea29120 (Boston, MA)
Jazz music grows - right in front of you.. That's what makes it Jazz music.
Jill M (NYC)
In this curious time we can see the difficult road that women have usually had to follow to play jazz, traditionally a men's world. There are so many talented women players out there, for example pianists Helen Sung and and Roberta Pickett and others. It's good to see some of them written about in the NY Times, which could do more in the way of jazz coverage. Cheers to the ladies and keep swinging.
jonr (Brooklyn)
As someone whose been part of the jazz scene for over thirty years primarliy as a recording engineer, I find this article to generally correct in pointing out the pervasive sexism surrounding this music. I've been fortunate to work with many prominent female jazz musicians including Geri Allen, Allison Miller, Ingrid Jensen and Mary Halvorson and also male musicians such as Anthony Braxton and Matt Wilson who do not share these prejudices against women who play jazz. All I can say is, with this wonderful music on the ropes in terms of commercial appeal and job opportunities, it's tragic to me to see the jazz world further denigrated by the controversy surrounding these issues. The New York Times needs to spend more time reviewing exciting jazz performnances and recordings and less time writing about this silly squabbling.
Inchoate But Earnest (Northeast US)
"this wonderful music" is emphatically NOT "on the ropes". You have to get out & around more, jonr
ELizabeth (California)
To jonr in Brooklyn: There is an inherent contradiction in your comment. On the one hand you say this: "I find this article to [be] generally correct in pointing out the pervasive sexism surrounding this music. " On the other hand you say this: "it's tragic to me to see the jazz world further denigrated by the controversy surrounding these issues. The New York Times needs to spend . . . less time writing about this silly squabbling." What I might have hoped you'd say was something like this: "It's tragic to me that, with this wonderful music on the ropes in terms of commercial appeal and job opportunities, the authority figures and gatekeepers continue to demean and demoralize up-and-coming talent, which happens to be female, which could invigorate the genre and expand its horizons both artistically and with regard to audience appeal." The marvelous description of Matana Roberts' heart- and mind-expanding performance is a thrilling example of the contributions that could be made if only "the boys" could relax their childish, insecure death grip on the keys to the club. I, for one, applaud the New York Times for shining a light on yet another example of insecure, small-minded males trying to stifle the growth and thwart the creativity that, if allowed to flower, could invigorate the genre they purport to love, if only they did not exclude the potential contributions of 50% of their fellow artists.
Cherie (Salt Lake City,)
Oh please. I used to frequent jazz venues in the 90's and 00's - I was there for the music - but the attitude towards females was 1950's at best. This article is not only completely relevant, but long overdue.
Svirchev (Canada)
This same article could have been written at any time in the last three decades using different names for the musicians. There have always been outstanding jazz musicians who are female, but women instrumentalists (as opposed to vocalists) have always been a minority on stage. Canadians Peggy Lee (cello), Jane Bunnett (soprano saxophone) and the sisters Jensen (Ingrid & Christine) have led bands for a long time. The highest profile big band leader in the United States has been Maria Schneider...for decades. The Glasper-Iverson 'clitoris' comment is noteworthy for its stupidity and gratuitous sexism. Take that word and 'women' out of the statement, and you get what both men and women do when the groove is there: nod and sway. The inner logic of creative music has always been directed to both the heart and the soul. By the way, jazz music is synonymous with improvisation, it's just that some jazz is more improvised than others. Audiences turn out for jazz because they want ti hear the challenges of the music, rather than the reputations inherent to pop music. Nevertheless, its good to see this article present some of the new, upcoming musicians like Tomeka Reid.
DM (<br/>)
Thank you Giovanni for writing this article! There are thousands and thousands of us women in jazz:performing, composing, recording, leading ensembles from duo to big band to large scale orchestras, teaching, coaching and leading non-profits to help young women and young men study jazz, all done with great skill and great commitment to the music. Your article give us credence for the work that we do and the music we make. Very much appreciated!
Bob Gluck (Albany, NY)
So delighted to see this in the Times. Note also the wonderful recent work by Jane Ira Bloom and the 2016 collection of interviews with women jazz musicians, Chris Becker’s “Freedom of Expression: Interviews With Women in Jazz.”
Deirdre Katz (Princeton)
I'm delighted to hear this. But let's give credit to past pioneers, too. I surely can't be the only one to remember the late Alice Coltrane, a fine jazz composer in her own right.
Tonjo (Florida)
I do remember Alice Coltrane. She was also a very good composer and pianist with a style all her own. I have a copy on Impulse lp with her and Pharoah Sanders on tenor.
Bill Berry (San Francisco Bay Area)
I once went to a winery event featuring a jazz quartet and was shocked when they started playing an Alice Coltrane composition. Nice!!!
Tonjo (Florida)
I was fortunate to have seen an all women Jazz group several decades ago while overseas. There are many women who can swing like men. Mary Lou Williams, a jazz pianist was one of the best. Check her out on YouTube.
RA (New York)
I see, swinging "like men" is what women should aspire to? How about plain "swinging"? This shows how the sexist jazz culture has sublimated itself into even well-meaning intentions.
W.Wolfe (Oregon)
Bravo !!! A great article, and its about time these Women get the recognition they well deserve. David Crosby said; "Music is Love", and its true. If anything is going to help save this World, and bring people's hearts together to do exactly that, it is great Music. The joy of improvisation in Jazz is undeniable. The fun of playing it, or listening to your peers play it, is inspiring beyond belief. May that Joy provide the drive to see these young Women go as far as they want with their musical careers.
See also