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August 16, 2009


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Bill Forbes

Controversial stuff on women and jazz, Marc! I agree largely with your diagnosis and explanations, though I would point out that there are now many signs that the situation is changing, at least where musicians are concerned. You need look no further than the photo in the later part of your post to see this. The fact that she's a horn player is significant, as convention formerly seemed to exclude women from all but vocalist and keyboard roles, with the honorable exception of Melba Liston, Valaida Snow and a few others.

Michael Steinman

Dear Marc,
I know you have a secret liking for controversy -- it is the jalapeno of the blog-world -- but your gender-alizations make me nervous. Am I a gatherer rather than a hunter because I love the gentle sounds of Ben Webster with strings? Or those women who admire the soothing allure of classical music and opera: does that include Shostakovich and Wagner? Seriously, if you look at the photographs of the audience for the early Newport Festival, for instance, you see just as many women as men, and it's hard to assert that they were chicks, bored girlfriends, and tolerant wives. I've been thinking of late about the way jazz-lovers get very excited about the special secret esoteric nature of the music, that a small part of the charm of listening to, say, Tony Fruscella, is in knowing that no one else is doing so within a ten-mile radius. In short, many men become jazz nerds, or Aspergers-with-discographies, poring over their precious records . . . while the women they know, if at all, would be happy to go out and dance to music that has a beat. Lots of young women out there at swing dances, doing to do! They may be the music's future. And is it too self-referential to say that my Beloved loves jazz?

Cheers from a gender-neutral seat in the bleachers -- Michael


But there have been so many wonderful women jazz players: Melba Liston, Mary Lou Williams, Jutta Hipp, Beryl Booker, Clora Bryant. But then again, outside of Mary Lou, most of their contributions to the music have been overlooked.

And perhaps I'm just lucky that my fiancee loves jazz? One of many reasons why I am marrying her.

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  • Marc Myers writes regularly for The Wall Street Journal and is author of "Anatomy of a Song" (Grove) and "Why Jazz Happened." Founded in 2007, JazzWax is a two-time winner of the Jazz Journalists Association's best blog award.

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