Today is International Jazz Day (I’m throwing virtual confetti as I write this), and that means that Jazz Appreciation Month is almost over. It’s been a busy, jazz-filled month, and once again, I’ve been reminded how lucky I am to live in Seattle. Not only do we have an amazing scene, we have an amazing scene with dozens of incredibly talented women. Many of whom performed during last weekend’s first-ever Seattle Women in Jazz Festival. This was a wonderful event, a true act of love and devotion by its founder Jessica Davis.
That said, jazz festivals devoted solely to women have their pros and cons. Celebrations of women and their accomplishments are, on the whole, a good thing. As is bringing a greater awareness to the hardworking women amongst us. But they also risk marginalizing these same women. It’s far too easy to dismissively say (or think), “Oh, she’s just a ‘woman in jazz,’” then go hear your favorite male musician instead.
Regardless of which side of this debate you fall on (or if you’re like me and can’t choose just one side), women in jazz festivals do prompt a much needed discussion about gender and jazz. And in the weeks leading up to the Seattle Women in Jazz Festival, I was able to participate in this conversation. I had the pleasure of interviewing four of the artists appearing in the festival: Jeannette d’Armand, Kate Olson, Samantha Boshnack, and Sarah Elizabeth Charles. These are smart, thoughtful, and very talented women, and I thoroughly enjoyed hearing what they had to say. I also enjoyed reading blog posts by saxophonist Cynthia Mullis and clarinetist/vocalist Beth Fleenor. Both performed in the festival and both had valuable insights into being a woman in jazz. (Cynthia has grown tired of the “women in jazz” label and prefers an integrated approach on the bandstand, and Beth stressed the importance of having strong, capable women represented on the bandstand so that young girls have role models.)
After reflecting on what each of these women had to
say, here is what I’ve learned:
- On the whole, it is more difficult being a woman in jazz, especially if you’re an instrumentalist.
- Female musicians don’t want to be seen only as women. They don’t want to be objectified sex symbols that men drool over. And they don’t want to be “pretty good, for a girl.” They want to be awesome. Period.
- Music is part of who they are. They need music to be themselves. They need music to fully realize their voices and their visions.
- They love what they do. They work hard. And they are committed.
In short, they are just like the guys, and that is the way they want to be treated.