Valentine’s Day weekend marked the second annual Seattle Women in Jazz Festival, and once again, founder Jessica Davis put on a wonderful community-building event. It was the first of three similar festivals scheduled to take place this spring. This “mini-season” of women in jazz fests has gotten me thinking again about festivals dedicated to female performers. Do we still need them? Do they help or hurt the larger cause of women trying to make it in the male-dominated world of jazz? Which leads to the larger, most pressing question: How do we cultivate more female talent and build audiences for their concerts?Read More
I love fan art. It gives the amateurs amongst us a chance to put our own creative spin on an existing work while paying tribute to an artist that we admire. It’s interactive. It’s a form of homage. It helps Vaughan’s legacy live on. And Vaughan’s cover of “Whatever Lola Wants” has spawned a lot of fan art. Some of it is a lot of fun. Some less so. Some, quite, frankly, a little weird.Read More
Last time I talked about Sarah Vaughan’s still popular cover of “Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets” and the power of music to enact real cultural and social change. This post I’d like to discuss another form of cultural work done by music: selling stuff! In particular, how “Whatever Lola Wants” has been used in advertising.Read More
One of my very favorite Sarah Vaughan songs is “Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets” (1955). She nails her role as the seductive temptress and performs a Lola that is hip and sexy with a dash of humor. It’s as if Vaughan is winking at the listener, saying: come here, this is serious business, but not really. And her voice is stunning: full, rich, and sensuous, yet agile as she effortlessly infuses the lyric with her trademark bends and turns.Read More
Friday afternoon as I eased into my long, holiday weekend, I ran across Abby Johnston’s thoughtful piece for Salon, “No women allowed: Summer music festivals are dudefests, again.” Ugh. Disappointing but not surprising. Then as I wrapped up my weekend I saw an advertisement for “The Women’s Concert for Change.” The ad was upbeat and promised an uplifting celebration of women. But, as it turns out, the concert, to be aired June 2, is part of headliner Beyonce’s new campaign to raise funds and awareness for female empowerment around the world. This is serious, more disheartening business.Read More
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.Read More
There has been a lot of talk online recently about jazz, gender, and sexuality. Musicologist Guthrie Ramsey, for example, gave us a historian’s take on what he calls “jazz manhood” in bebop and the career of pianist Bud Powell, and how this contributed to his own embarrassment as a boy playing the piano, which he loved, rather than the more masculine saxophone. Drummer Allison Miller wrote a moving essay on the challenges of being not only a woman, but also a lesbian, in the jazz world. Crooner Spencer Day discussed coming out, homophobia, the absence of gay voices in jazz, and how all of this has influenced his career, both creatively and commercially. And singer Michelle Shocked, long believed to be a lesbian herself, lashed out with an unfortunate, if predictable, homophobic rant during her recent appearance at Yoshi’s Jazz Club in San Francisco.Read More
In my last post, I wrote about how Sarah Vaughan was an intensely private woman leading a public life, and how she kept her fans, members of the press, and even, sometimes, her own family at a distance.
Since then, I’ve been thinking about why that was and how it influences my work as her biographer. Part of my job is to tease out the details of her life, provide a glimpse into the woman behind the scenes, the private Vaughan. But what does a biographer do when her subject doesn’t cooperate? How much do I extrapolate from the information I do have? In other words, how do I read an absence? And how do I respect my subject and her desire for privacy while satisfying the desires of readers in search of an intimate portrait of a performer they admire?Read More
I love this picture of Sarah Vaughan reclining. It’s an unguarded, almost stolen moment. And as her biographer, I’m always searching for these kinds of private moments, glimpses into the woman behind the art. This is not an easy task.Read More
I’ve often wondered why we love the music that we love. Why does one performer captivate and excite us, while others simply fall flat? This is a complex question. One that involves the artist’s mastery of her craft, stage persona, and creative vision, not to mention the nuts and bolts of the actual music performed. But more often than not, it boils down to an artist’s ability to move her listeners – to create emotional, very visceral responses to the music she performs.Read More