When I see a photo of a jazz group full of men, sometimes I say something to the director via email or a comment on their social media page. Usually the response I get is some variation on, “We don’t exclude females, why just last year one was in our group!”
I think men are taken aback. I’m not accusing them of anything, only saying that I hope they’ll do more. Today I was thinking of the movie “42” about Jackie Robinson. Women will probably not be taunted and spit on when they perform jazz like Jackie was for playing in the “white” league, but women do face significant obstacles, and I was just thinking about how much thought and intention went into choosing Jackie and preparing him and his team for his participation in major league baseball. Integration in baseball was not going to happen naturally. Neither is increasing numbers of women jazz instrumentalists. Otherwise numbers wouldn’t be the same as they were 30 years ago.
So I want to tell you about one of the best responses I’ve gotten. It was from John Daversa, leader of a couple of superior jazz groups. Here’s what I wrote:
“Please make an effort to find women instrumentalists. As a teen, I didn’t see a place for myself, and not much has changed. I’m doing what I can, but I’m hoping for some high profile men to make it a priority, too. You are doing GREAT things musically. Happy Women’s Equality Day!”
He replied:
“Hi Marie, YES!! Gender equality is an important issue that we are very aware of. This has been on my radar as well. Thank you!!”*
Simple. Will he make an extra effort? Who knows? But this is the right attitude to start with. Not “I’m doing all I can,” but “I recognize things are not yet equal and want to be a part of the solution.”
I don’t blame men for not answering the exact way I want them to; they don’t have this on their mind all the time like I do. But I do want to give my idea for how men can take the next step. There are many people working on ways to keep more girls in jazz in school (talking to boys about harassment, encouraging girls to take solos and audition for honor bands, etc.) and women in professional groups (blind auditions, etc.) but I think this is important, too—that first response when someone brings up the topic. The question will arise for you sooner or later. Be ready!
*I also got similar responses from two of the many high school directors I’ve contacted.
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