Women have always played a
major role in the jazz world — and not only as singers with the band.
Take Lil Armstrong, who worked on the early recordings of her once-husband
Louis Armstrong and later fronted her own group. Or local musicians such as
pianist and vocalist Flo Garvin and the Hampton Sisters (pianist Aletra,
bassist Virtue, Carmalita and Dawn), who played into their eighties.
Recently, the Smithsonian
Institution announced that, in its tenth year, "Jazz Appreciation Month" will
be officially designated as "Women in Jazz Month." This year's JAM poster will
feature a likeness of pianist and composer Mary Lou Williams by artist Keith
Now that women jazz artists
are getting national recognition for their contribution to jazz, I wanted to
check in with local female musicians about their lot in life. I talked with
three jazz musicians, each of them representing a different generation of jazz
performers, all of them members of the group Women in Jazz.
Jazz and swing violinist
Carolyn Dutton worked for 30 years in New York as a professional musician. Her
specialty is gypsy jazz. I asked her if the status of women jazz performers has
changed since the twentieth century.
"I think more and more women
are less intimidated by the genre," Dutton said. "I think more and more
audiences are interested in hearing women play. I still think there is a
prejudice that exists and women are just going to have to accept that. Women
have to prove themselves harder than men and prove that we are very good."
Jazz clarinetist, bandleader
and University of Indianapolis grad Shawn Goodman has been playing jazz locally
for a decade. I asked her if she faces unique challengers because of her
gender, particularly in her role as an instrumentalist and bandleader. She was
very frank in her reply.
"I have difficulties because
people look at me and think because I am a girl that I may not be as good a
musician as some of the well-known guys in town," Goodman explained. "I feel
like maybe I have to put in a little extra effort, more so than the guys. I
think when people call somebody for a gig, they don't think of a girl. It's a
mindset thing that has to be changed."
Goodman observes that there
are more female instrumentalists on the scene.
"There were some gigs I
played with a big band where every saxophone player was female. It's not that
often you see a whole female sax line, but I am running into that more and
Heather Ramsey is a vocalist,
music educator and the co-founder, with pianist Monika Herzig, of Isis, an
organization for female musicians from Indiana. I asked Ramsey, who fronts jazz
and pop groups, how the stereotype of the female vocalist has changed over
"There is still a large
segment of women who relegate themselves to being the girl singer or the front
girl," she explained."I would say
there has been
improvement, but not because
the industry is quite ready for it to be there yet. I think the women are
trying to push it, but I am not sure they will still fight against it."
When asked if she thought
Isis could help to make a difference in the lives of women in music, her answer
"Vocalists tend to be noticed
but maybe not respected as much. Instrumentalists tend not to be noticed but
are respected. We are trying to bring those two things together in kind of
collaborative atmosphere of mutual respect."