Women in Jazz 2020 – What They Want You to Know

This article is typically my opportunity to showcase the historical objects, staff and programs of the American Jazz Museum. Last March, I wrote about the importance of Women in Jazz Month to celebrate the female impact on the genre. I shared the stories of some of Kansas City’s most influential women in jazz, and asked how we can bring more parity in gender representation to the world of jazz.

This year, I want to leverage this opportunity to serve as a platform for the women who are impacting jazz right here in Kansas City (and beyond!) right now. I want them to speak directly to you about their experiences. Because they are leaders making the artform what it is today . . . and what it will be tomorrow. This is what they want you to know:

Deborah Brown (vocalist) — During War II […] the pull of jazz music was too strong to stop women from developing their personal taste for playing jazz. As a result, we have numerous bands being led by talented artists who happen to be women. Singers have flourished as well as those playing the woodwinds, percussion, piano and guitar. Where it goes from here, we can only wait for the treat of new music and styles to be revealed. I’m in my fourth decade of performing jazz and have seen and heard tremendous changes. My heart goes out to my colleagues.

Jackie Myers (pianist) — I hope that one day women will populate the world of jazz, so much so, that the need to recognize them as a minority group within the field will become obsolete. My name is Jackie Myers; my pronouns are she, her and hers, and I take more pride in being a jazz musician than I do anything else. It is especially my honor to be a part of the Kansas City jazz scene.

Molly Hammer (vocalist) — When I was first coming up, there were several other women who supported and lifted me up. The mentoring I received and continue to receive from other women in jazz is absolutely instrumental in my success.

Eboni Fondren (vocalist) — Women in jazz in Kansas City could be uplifted and supported more. We are all educated and professional bandleaders. We work just as hard as our male counterparts. Maybe we don’t play instruments or run orchestras but what we do […] is just as important to the continuing on of the legacy of jazz as is the next trumpet or tenor sax player. It would be nice to be celebrated all year round, not just one month.

Aryana Nemati (saxophonist) — I am inspired to see the role of performing female musicians and singers expand in our city and am thankful to be part of it.

Lisa Henry (vocalist, educator) — “Women in Jazz Month” represents the natural continuum of a Black American musical art form that compels all artists to share their unique voice and story. In the area of jazz, the most important inquiry is not a question of one’s gender. The most important question is: “Can that cat PLAY?” Women with compelling stories to tell will always have a place on the bandstand and a seat at the jazz table.

Shay Estes (vocalist) — I’m proud to see how many women are now leading bands and collaborating with one another within the jazz community. I look forward to the day when “Women in Jazz” are so prevalent in KC as to no longer be seen as novel enough to require simply a single month to celebrate them, but are instead considered a normal and vital part of a thriving musical community that respects, honors and celebrates them all year long.

Amber Underwood (flutist, educator) — Our music is just as substantial as [that of] our male counterparts. More representation in publications, media, arts organizations and performance opportunities is imperative. Women in jazz month is EVERY month and every day if you are a woman in jazz.

Kelley Gant (vocalist) — I wouldn’t be singing jazz in Kansas City if it weren’t for the other female musicians in the city who supported me from the start.

Millie Edwards (vocalist) — Each woman on the scene should be there; it keeps the art form alive and creates/develops new audiences. Beyond the strength, creativity, diversity and talent of women on the KC Jazz Scene is the ability that has been given to SHARING with each other. In the end it’s important that women continue to extend a hand to other women. Help open doors. There’s enough work, but sincere and caring support will always be needed.

Alyssa Bell (violist, educator) — Women in jazz are historically outnumbered due to the culture of the craft. Improvisation is essentially composition and the ability to articulate the inner voice through one’s instrument. As a young female, it takes an incredible amount of courage to take the solo in a room full of males. What we need is more young females not just encouraged, but PUSHED, to express themselves through improvising from the start of their studies, or this dichotomy will always exist. We can start to make a change by hosting young female-only jazz workshops and festivals in addition to classroom attentiveness.

Seeing a pattern? Me too.

Join us in The Blue Room throughout the month of March for live music four nights a week, featuring some of these and more incredible women of Kansas City jazz.

*Time and space parameters have limited content. For the full article, visit americanjazzmuseum.org/newsrooom

–Marissa Baum

About The Author: Contributing Writer

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