The music known as jazz — however you choose to define it — has cherished its reputation as free-wheeling, radical in its approach to established texts, a music for those who knew there were worlds of experience beyond the canon. And much of that remains true. So it is an unpleasant irony that some people associated with jazz have been less than open in their acceptance of artists who didn’t fit their narrow criteria for acceptance. The wrong color? Ethnicity? Sexual preference? Gender?
Women have been accepted on the bandstand for more than the last century — as singers. Even then, they were treated with condescension, mockery, derision. “Do you know the one about the chick singer who taps at your door . . . ?” But even the most rigidly patriarchal musicians and club owners have accepted singers as necessary parts of the Show.
But women instrumentalists and improvisers have only recently begun to gain anything but a grudging acceptance — and by that I mean acceptance from their male peers. Lovie Austin, Dolly Jones, Mary Lou Williams, Marian McPartland, Mary Osborne, Marjorie Hyams, Melba Liston, and Vi Redd come to mind as twentieth-century pioneers, facing discrimination, subtle and overt, that should have never happened. “Can she play?” should have been the only question, but it often was never asked. And “all-women” bands, no matter how compelling their music, were — at best — regarded as freakish, the improvising equivalent of Dr. Johnson’s lady preacher. Sherrie Maricle and others might tell us that the situation is improving . . . but how slowly?
The film will be screening for one week, starting May 10, at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center at Lincoln Center, New York City. Tickets can be purchased here.
For information on this beautiful photograph — an updating and homage to Art Kane’s portrait, fifty years earlier, click here.
I hope to see you at the screening!
May your happiness increase.