women in jazz

WOW. Grace Kelly. Y’all remember that, alright? Seriously. So I heard this amazing interpretation of “Ain’t No Sunshine” on the radio, waiting with baited breath to hear who the hell it was behind this crazy shee-it. Turns out, you have to qualify it as crazy youthful sixteen year old second-gen Korean American she-it to be accurate. Grace Kelly. Mood Changes.

In the liner notes, Don Heckman beautifully describes the casual sexism us men often carelessly throw around. Here’s an excerpt (emphasis mine):

Jazz has lagged far behind virtually every other area of American society (other, perhaps, than the entire country’s choice of presidential candidates) in its misogynistic attitudes about female jazz horn players. Again, there are exceptions – reaching from the Diva big band to trumpeters such as the veteran Clora Bryant and more youthful Ingrid Jensen, and saxophonists such as Tineke Postma, Jane Ira Bloom and Anat Cohen (to name only a few) But, nonetheless, there’s probably not a male jazz fan anywhere who hasn’t had that moment of dawning wonder when he hears an all-female big band trumpet section roaring through a Count Basie flag-waver, or a female saxophonist roaring through a set of post-Coltrane choruses. “Wow!,” is the usual response, “Doesn’t she play good for a… “ The last word is mercifully left unnoted. There may be plenty of outstanding women horn players in jazz, but the brass ceiling still hasn’t been completely cracked.

So, the first time I heard Grace, I – like many other male listeners who haven’t completely shaken their foolish vision of jazz as a male art – initially responded to the utterly genderless qualities of her sound, phrasing and improvising. It was at L.A.’s Jazz Bakery, and Grace was romping, with consummate self-confidence, through classics – “I’ll Remember April,” “’Round Midnight,” “Caravan” – as well as her own well-crafted originals.

But, beyond the wonder of Grace’s brass ceiling-shattering style, there was another quality, one that reached into the creative maturity that resides beneath the dewiness of her age: a remarkable sense of maturity in her choices, across the board, melodically, harmonically and rhythmically

It reminds me of Emily Remler. Haven’t heard of her?

While women thrive in the field of classical music, there have been very few great female jazz or rock guitarists; throughout a tragically brief career Remler constantly proved herself a notable exception.

Go out and get Ms. Remler’s East to Wes album. She met an untimely, premature death, burned bright, fast, and burnt out in a flash. I wish the best of luck, fortune, happiness and long life to Grace Kelly — things that Emily Remler was not fortunate to have.

Above all, support women in music outside of their “appropriate” traditional gender roles. Break the fuggin’ brass ceiling. Shatter it. Pound it to smithereens. Because when we do that, good things happen. Here’s a toast: to the end of sexism in every aspect of our lives. It’s a good reminder how easily people can move beyond “survive” into “thrive” if we simply get out of the way and let them — let alone support them, like we’ve done with other men.

So, here’s to good music, and to everyone’s right to make it. Here’s to exceptions becoming the rule. That’s progress. Here’s to the would-be Grace Kellys of the world who would thrive doing “men’s work” with just a little support. I’ll leave you with some final words from Ms. Remler:

When asked how she wanted to be remembered she remarked:

“Good compositions, memorable guitar playing and my contributions as a woman in music…. but the music is everything, and it has nothing to do with politics or the women’s liberation movement.”

Music through liberation, liberation through music. Peace.

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