BHM Series: Women in Jazz

Pianist Hazel Scott

Last year when I started this blog, I thought it would be cool to celebrate Black History Month by presenting a series  centered around a particular theme. I really enjoyed informing my readers about the significance of protect music and how artists such as Abbey Lincoln, Public Enemy, Sweet Honey in the Rock, and Billie Holiday utilized music for a social purpose.

My goal was to show that regardless of the controversy their songs caused, they stood their ground and continued to enlighten and empower people all over the world with their strong words and riveting melodies.

I will continue the series next month with a focus on female jazz musicians and how their role in jazz has elevated the genre. As you can see from the page on my blog “Ladies First” I am somewhat biased when it comes to female musicians, and it may be for obvious reasons. Their contributions are still not acknowledged on the same level as male musicians (although we are coming close) and they do not get as much media attention unless they are vocalists or performing with male musicians.

Yet, apart from the gender biases they endure, female jazz musicians are continuing to make some major strides within the genre and their work will never cease. I’m always fascinated by the stories of artists like  pianist Hazel Scott, who was a child prodigy, and so eloquently mastered the fusion of  classical and jazz music to become one of the leading jazz pianists during the 1940s and 50s. She in turn paved the way for future jazz musicians and particularly pianists like Geri Allen, Diane Krall, and others.

Their stories are just as fascinating, but do not get told or acknowledged as in depth. Trombonist Melba Liston is another exceptional musician whose story is equally enticing. Liston become a very much sought after musician and composer, creating music for artists like Randy Weston and Dizzy Gillespie. The thought of her playing an instrument mainly thought of as masculine makes her story even more intriguing. I was fortunate to interview jazz saxophonist Geoff Bradfield last year about his musical tribute to Liston entitled “Melba.” Bradfield composed the jazz suite, which was centered around Liston’s life and her work and it premiered last summer in Chicago.

It would be so great to see more musicians pay tribute to female musicians through musical works or by presenting concerts that showcase more than jazz ballads and Tin Pan Alley standards.  I want this series to serve as a point of reference as well as a tribute to women in jazz.

Drummer Terri Lyne Carrington
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