Saturday, December 1, 2018

The Year of the Woman in Monterey

Tia Fuller and Ingrid Jensen during the Geri Allen tribute
at the 61st Monterey Jazz Festival in 2018
Photo by John Whiting
Originally published in the program for the 61st Annual Monterey Jazz Festival, Sept. 21-23, 2018

When asked to comment on women in jazz today, saxophonist Tia Fuller starts by looking back. “We’ve always been there,” she says. “Lil Hardin Armstrong, Cora Bryant, Mary Lou Williams … It’s just that the history books have been about his story.” 

The 61st Monterey Jazz Festival will help to write a new chapter. More than half of this year’s performances feature women as leaders, co-leaders or side players. Some 60 women jazz artists will be on the grounds, many with their own bands. Most are instrumentalists. The majority play what are traditionally (and inexplicably) viewed as “masculine” instruments: saxophone, trumpet, clarinet, bass, drums.

Women have been welcomed at Monterey from the start. The inaugural year, 1958, featured Billie Holiday, Ernestine Anderson and others. Women have been artists-in-residence, commission artists and showcase artists. But this year feels like a turning point, one from which there’s no turning back.

A changing zeitgeist, fueled by the #MeToo movement, has made women jazz artists more outspoken about inequality, underrepresentation, gender discrimination and harassment, and harder to silence and ignore. If 2017 was a “year of reckoning and recognition” for women in jazz, as the New York Timeshas said, then 2018 is a year when we’re seeing some results. 

The Atlanta Jazz Festival in May featured a whole day of women headliners. Fuller was there with her group. So was trumpeter Ingrid Jensen. Fuller remembers thinking, “This is exciting for me, because we’re able to have more voice. Men aren’t necessarily seeing it as this feminist movement, but more as ‘Yeah, women do need to be more present!’”

Keychange, an international campaign begun in Europe in late 2017, is asking music festivals to achieve gender parity by 2022. New York’s Winter Jazz Festival is among the 100+ festivals around the world to sign the pledge. 

We Have Voice, a collective of 14 women in jazz and experimental music, has released a Code of Conduct to Promote Safe(r) Workplaces in the Performing Arts. The message: Zero tolerance for harassment of any kind. Seattle’s Earshot Jazz, Chicago’s Hyde Park Jazz Festival and SF Jazz are just a few of the institutions that have adopted the code. Fuller and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington are members of We Have Voice.

Tia Fuller at the 61st Monterey Jazz Festival
Photo by John Whiting
“What I wanted to do this year was make a strong statement,” says Tim Jackson, Monterey’s artistic director. “It started with putting together our next Monterey Jazz Festival on Tour band. Half the band is women, and they’re on the front line, in prominent roles with the trumpet [Bria Skonberg], saxophone [Melissa Aldana] and vocals [Cécile McLorin Salvant].”

Fuller and Jensen are this year’s artists-in-residence. Last year, they were part of “Women in Jazz,” a lively panel discussion in the Blue Note tent. (An edited version appeared in DownBeat.) “Women in Jazz Part II” takes place Sunday in the Pacific Jazz Café, a bigger venue.

The 2018 Showcase Artist and Jazz Legends Gala honoree is vocalist Dianne Reeves, who was recently named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master. “Monterey was one of the first major festivals she played, early in her career,” Jackson says. That was in 1984. She’s been back several times since.

Monterey wanted to honor the late and much-loved pianist and educator Geri Allen, who died in June 2017. Allen was a great friend to the festival, a profoundly influential artist and an inspiration to many women. Jackson put Fuller and Jensen in charge of curating Friday night’s tribute concert in the Arena. They brought in Carrington and pianists Kris Davis and Shaime Royston. 

Also on this year’s game-changing line-up: stellar clarinetist Anat Cohen, immensely creative soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom, internationally acclaimed saxophonist and flutist Jane Bunnett and her group Maqueque (five young Cuban women), trailblazing jazz guitarist Mary Halvorson, and avant-garde flutist Jamie Baum. 

Jackson says, “A lot of situations just fell into place to make this the Year of the Woman at Monterey. But the real key will be next year – making sure that next year, and every year after, there’s a strong gender balance in the programming that we do. And that we’re putting each artist in the best situation for success, and the best venue, and the best project possible, to set them up to have an incredible rapport with the audience.”

By phone and email, our two Artists-in-Residence offered up some thoughts and insights about where we are and what they would like to see happen next.

On the state of women in jazz today

Tia Fuller: There are more opportunities now because people are talking about it. Women are feeling more empowered to speak out. Men are being held more accountable to give more visibility to the women who are out there. More festivals and clubs are providing platforms for us to be seen.

Ingrid Jensen: The state is solid. There are more and more women gaining the skills and experience necessary to rise to the top of a very challenging and ever-evolving musical field.

On what can be done to make jazz more open and accessible to women players

TF: We have to raise the level of consciousness in the formative years in school, so these environments are equally as nurturing as they are toward boys and men. So we can see more young ladies out there on the scene who don’t have to wear this armor of protection to go and sit in at a jazz club.

IJ: Education! Conversation and support. Band rooms need to have more pictures and CDs of female musicians, as well as the standard Wynton, Dizzy, Miles, and Ella posters.

Ingrid Jensen at the 61st Monterey Jazz Festival
Photo by John Whiting
On why some instruments are considered “masculine” and what that even means

TF: I think it’s about who has traditionally played the instrument. When we think about a saxophone, who do we think about? Trane or Bird. We don’t think about Vi Burnside, who went to high school with Sonny Rollins, played tenor saxophone and was a soloist with the International Sweethearts of Rhythm.

IJ: I never got that “masculine” thing when it comes to a hunk of metal. Maybe it’s an American thing? I actually wanted to play the trombone. Both instruments were equally acknowledged as legitimate choices by my Canadian parents and band teacher. Does this mean we have to ask men why they chose flutes and piano? 

On their own women role models

TF: Definitely Terri Lyne Carrington. She started out playing with Clark Terry early on. It wasn’t even an idea for her not to play because she’s a woman. Her mindset is, “If something is in your way, you just move it out of the way.” She will always hold people accountable if they’re not giving her the respect she feels she deserves. She calls them out right there.

IJ: My latest role models are Cécile McLorin Salvant, Becca Stevens and Tia Fuller. All stellar humans who inspire me. Early role models: Stacey Rowles, Marianne McPartland, Lil Hardin Armstrong, Melba Liston. Also Laurie Frink. She was the first female trumpet teacher I had, and her incredible teaching launched my career forward.

Any advice for young women instrumentalists today?

TF: Move in faith, not fear. Move faithfully into your purpose and the direction of your life. Know this is a continuous thing. There’s never an arrival point. Know this is not going to be easy, but it’s going to be worth it.

IJ: Study hard! You cannot Instagram your way into this music. It takes a long time to get good at it, so get on the edge of your seat and get going. Don’t take any abuse from anyone. Use the discouragement that naturally occurs along the way as food for power to get even better. Get a good teacher and get out and play as much as possible. ASK QUESTIONS!

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