Sexism In Jazz - You decide if it's real.

I am actually not going to answer that question directly. Rather, I am going to give some examples and you can make up your own mind.

So, how does an agent introduce himself to a world class saxophone player? Well, after making small talk and introducing himself, he produces his card - and sticks it down her cleavage. Right , wrong? You decide.

A female band leader phones a festival organizer in response to his callout for acts to fill the stages on the weekend-long event. She gives the band's details, the line up, the kind of music. He listens and then says, " that sounds great but we have no spots left, sorry. " hours later, said band leader's husband - guitar player in the band- calls the same guy. He explains the band, the line up, the type of music they play. The guy says, " that's great. I can offer you Friday evening and/or Saturday lunchtime - which ever you like - and thanks for getting in touch."

Another scenario - a gig, a guitar player , a sensational set. Great stuff. Socializing afterwards with the audience the guitar player has a guy who sidles up to her and says, 'Wow, for a woman, you play really well."

Another time, a young singer was performing - her third gig as leader of this line up, a much bigger venue than she was used to. Things went well. A week later she read the review. In it, the reviewer speaks about the pianist 'band leader' (her brother, John) , his great playing and arrangements ( they were 50:50), the guitarist's prowess, the drummer and finally says ' all this was topped off by the pretty singer doing her level best and looking fabulous'.

Then we have the situation where a female singer was booked by a venue. The day before the gig, the band visited the venue where the manager asked her if she could dress up and maybe travel around the room as she sang, maybe sit on a knee or two. She asked him if he wanted any of the guys in the band to do the same and was told 'no'.

A trombonist ( female) had a review of one of her gigs and the reviewer ended the piece by stating 'and the most amazing thing was the trombonist was a woman! ' A trumpeter answered a call out for players in a venue in Manchester. She was told ' Oh, sorry, we have enough females on the list now'. Not even an offer of an audition - and she was asked if she knew of any other musician ( presumably male) that might want to apply.

I refused to do a review for a PR company - I was too busy and it was the wrong kind of music for me. The PR agent came back to me, told me I never took reviews from them , that I only ever reviewed free jazz music and clearly hated men. Given that I review all kind of music, work with many men and had reviewed twice for the PR company (who make money from this, not me, I do it for the music), I wondered at his rudeness and why the final comment?

So, what do you think? Is this misogyny or simple misunderstandings? It could be that the guy with the business card thought he was being hilarious or maybe didn't want to make hand contact; it could be that in the intervening hours between the female band leader and her husband calling the festival curator another band's members had all had accidents and were now unable to perform so there were spots suddenly available. It could be the guy speaking to the guitar player thought every single good guitar player in the world was male, it might even be that the reviewer of the singer's gig had not read about the band, the line -up, or the singer's background before reviewing a concert (the band was called (singer's name) and her quartet, which might have given him a clue) but he might not have known. And it might be the venue who asked the singer to sit on knees were .....well, actually I couldn't think of any excuse for this. Maybe the guy who had a rant at me when I refused a review had had a bad day but there is no excuse for his final comment - and no basis. Maybe the guy who commented on the trombonist was genuinely shocked women could play a trombone so well and perhaps the guy who asked the female trumpet player he turned down if she knew of any other musicians was genuinely so crass he was unaware of the implications of his response. It is completely feasible there were genuine reasons for the above - isn't it? Yes? You decide.

I know I said I would not answer the question directly but it is clear something is still not quite right in our music. So much progress has been made and we should be aware of this. Particularly in the free jazz world, musicians both male and female seem to get along due to their talent rather than anything else ( and gender is not just binary in any case). Jazz has made huge strides forwards and it is now simply not 'a thing' to be sexist . Yet people still are because, particularly for people of , shall we say, a more mature vintage, it is ingrained. Women are 'pretty things'; they can maybe play an instrument ( certain instruments) but leading a band, playing something big loud or brassy - well, really! Just not done.

Yet, right back at the beginning of jazz music, women were powerful. There were strong women who fought against not only misogyny but also racism, low expectation and few opportunities for women. I have just researched ' Sweet' Emma Barrett and she is an example of how strong women have always been in jazz music. They have had support too and during the second world war many women slotted neatly into gaps left by male musicians who were drafted ( OK, they were booted back out for the most part afterwards but still, they had a chance). So why is there still a remnant of sexism left? Is there a place for it and does it make anyone feel more comfortable?

Until I researched for my second and third book on women in music and jazz music in particular, I thought some women were looking for sexism and finding it where it did not really exist but then I realized I was making excuses for behavior. If this had happened in a business setting, it would not be tolerated. When I worked as a trader I was a rare commodity as a female but this has changed in the 20 or so years since I moved away from business and even then, people were very wary of being seen as sexist. I assumed, wrongly, this was across the board in most areas of life. Why then, during my research for the books, did I get all the stories of sexism? I was not looking for them - and the ones above are just the very tip of the iceberg.

I had no intention of becoming an advocate for women in music when I began but time after time, I was shocked at the behavior of others and impressed by the determined characters of the women dealing with it. Many, of course have not had sexism and have grown in the industry with supportive people who would never consider gender had anything to do with the value of a musician. There are supportive labels and venues who could not give a hoot about gender - so long as they can play. So everything is going in the right direction - yet still, the occasions arise where sexism thrusts itself forward, shocking, yet all too present. It should have no place. It should have been banished to historical anecdotes and a realization of how stupid it all was long ago but it is, sadly, still alive and occasionally kicking. So, is sexism real in jazz? I don't know the answer in real terms or how widely it is spread but I do know that many of the women I spoke to in my research and interviewed ( and I approached many ages, nationalities, cultures) , had experienced it. Maybe time will change things - us, but jazz does need to get a move on and kick out the left over behavior from the past.

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