Friday, December 19, 2014

Happy Holidays!

Happy holidays, everyone. I'm not sure if its my age, my schedule, or the unseasonably warm weather you experience in Houston, but the holidays seem to have come out of nowhere. Work on the copy editing and design of Freedom of Expression: Interviews With Women in Jazz will be on pause for a couple weeks so I can recharge, refuel, and enjoy time with family and friends. I hope everyone out there gets the chance to take a break as well. (We are still on schedule to self-publish the book in March 2015.)

For more updates and women-in-jazz-related content, please "like" the Women in Jazz Facebook page.

Thank you for your continued support of this project. More soon . . .

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Copyediting and design update

Pianist and composer Roberta Piket (photo by Daniel Sheehan)
Thank you to everyone who contributed to my recent Indiegogo campaign. Thanks to your contributions, I have been able to begin the process of working with a top-notch copy editor and an award-winning designer to help me complete my book, Freedom of Expression: Interviews With Women in Jazz.

When I made the decision to self-publish this book, a friend told me straight up to be sure I work with a great copy editor and designer. They say, "You can't judge a book by it's cover." But, when it comes to a book, you usually can! The photos in the book will be in black and white, and the book itself will be a 6" X 9" trade paperback. The photo above of pianist and composer Roberta Piket (taken by Daniel Sheehan) is an example of the quality of visuals you'll find in the book.

Photos representing the majority of the musicians I interviewed for the book are going to be a crucial component in providing a comprehensive history and/or current "snapshot" of this music. I think its important to recast the tired visual cliches we're sort of stuck with when we talk about jazz (...somber looking dude in half shadow, clutching a tenor saxophone, smoking (always smoking) and looking out into space...) and allow for women of all colors and ages to enter the iconography. They've always been there. (No disrespect to Dexter Gordon!)

Taking these extra steps with the editing and design means the book's publication date has been pushed back to March 2015. But when the book is ready for sale, it will be something any reader will be proud to display on their coffee table. I also hope educators become aware of the book and consider adding it to reading lists and/or curriculum dealing with music, jazz and/or women's or gender studies.

More soon. (For more frequent updates about this project, give it a "like" over on Facebook.)

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Women in Jazz Decoupage

(Decoupage created by Lainie Diamond)

Handmade Mary Lou Williams decoupage. A thank you "perk" for those who contributed $250 or more to my recent Indiegogo campaign for my forthcoming book, Freedom of Expression: Interview With Women in Jazz. They go out in the mail Monday!

And thank you again to everyone who made a contribution to the campaign.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The copyediting begins...

...or rather, the copy writing has begun. Thanks to a successful fundraising campaign, I have the funds necessary to work with (i.e. pay) a professional to copyedit my book (Freedom of Expression: Interviews With Women in Jazz). Copyediting is a crucial step in completing any written work, and I am truly enjoying the process. It's nice to finally share the completed work with somebody whose job it is is to make sure all of the copy is tight, accurate, sourced and consistent. EVERY author you love has worked with a great copy editor, trust me.

I plan to self-publish the book in 2015. Once I made that decision, I knew I had to work with both a professional copy editor and graphic designer. It's sort of like recording great demos, then taking time to mix everything properly and work with a great mastering engineer. (It's kind of cool how many similarities there are between creating music and writing.)

On that note, I need to review some of the work that's come back to me. Wish me luck as we head into winter and the next-to-final stages of realizing this work. I couldn't have done it without your support!

P.S. The image below made ME laugh. But I have a pretty grim sense of humor...

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Walking a Gauntlet

"When I first came to New York City in 1962, this was before the women's movement, when I went to a club, it was like walking a gauntlet. It was just understood that if there was a woman on the premises, the men were gonna hit on her. Now, this is called sexual harassment. In those years it was considered to be that's just how it is, you know? Like, what's there to think about? A lot of women in those days were kicked off of bandstands and out of the recording dates because of the prevailing notion, which was very strong then, that men were better, that women were not as good as men. If you thought that way, it was considered hip. This sexual harassment was very intense." - Pianist Connie Crothers to the author, 2013

THANK YOU everyone who has contributed to my crowd funding campaign in the past few weeks! I am seeking funds to help me pay a copy editor and graphic designer to complete my forthcoming book Freedom of Expression: Interviews With Women in Jazz. 

The quote is a brief excerpt from my conversation with pianist Connie Crothers, one of the 37 musicians that are interviewed in the book. 

The campaign continues through September 30.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Rock and Roll

Singer Beverly Kenney

Here's another excerpt from the introduction to my forthcoming book Freedom of Expression: Interviews With Women in Jazz. The book includes Q&A interviews with 37 female jazz musicians of all ages and ethnic backgrounds and representing just about every style of jazz one can imagine.

Rock and Roll
I don’t care who knows it, 
I hate rock and roll! 
—Beverly Kenney, “I Hate Rock and Roll,”

In the post-war years, despite fewer opportunities to play due to the diminish¬ing popularity of big bands, many women, both instrumentalists and vocalists, continued to find work and push jazz into unexplored territory, often in small ensembles that placed a greater emphasis on soloing and group interplay. Pia¬nists Pat Moran, Lorraine Geller, Beryl Booker, the German émigré Jutta Hipp, and Toshiko Akiyoshi (who would form with husband and saxophonist Lew Tabackin the world-renowned big band, the Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra) are just some of the distinctive, post-war jazz musicians who were known, recorded, and appreciated in their time and still have dedicated followings today.

At the same time, rhythm and blues, alternately known as “rock and roll,” depending upon the skin color and gender of the person singing and playing, became the favored dance music of both black and white teenagers. As with jazz, the contributions by female musicians to the development of rock and roll are typically ignored in most historical narratives.

Although the advent of rock and roll is usually traced back to a handful of 1950s recordings by such iconic male artists as Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bill Haley, and Elvis Presley, female artists, including Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Big Mama Thornton, and Ruth Brown, to name just a few, were just as crucial to the development of this new musical form that drew equally on blues, gospel, jazz, country, and Cajun music. Recordings such as Tharpe’s “Strange Things Happening Every Day,” Thornton’s “Hound Dog,” and Brown’s “Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean,” were as musically influential, if not more so, as Berry ’s “Maybeline” or Haley ’s “Rock Around the Clock.”

Less than a decade after the release of these recordings, the emergence of three British rock and roll bands, the Beatles, the Kinks, and the Rolling Stones, each one heavily indebted to the blues and roots of black American rock and roll, heralded another musical and cultural transformation. Many young British and American women, inspired by the music and fashion of the British beat movement, formed their own all-female bands, including New York’s Goldie and the Gingerbreads, Detroit’s Pleasure Seekers, and the Liverpool-based quartet the Liverbirds, of whom Beatles guitarist and singer John Lennon famously quipped: “Girls with guitars? That’ll never work!”

In 1963, one year before the Beatles made their American television debut, the publication of Betty Friedan’s book The Feminine Mystique ignited what we now recognize as the second wave of the women’s movement. Friedan, who would found and become the first president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), described the depression and anxiety many college-educated women were experiencing in their prescribed roles as mothers and housekeepers. But once again, change was in the air. Over the next two decades, the women’s movement would gain momentum and influence and inspire the work of a new generation of female musicians across all genres, including jazz.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Imagine a Book Collection of Interviews With 37 Women in Jazz

Terri Lyne Carrington (photo by Tracy Love)

“I don't doubt my connection with (jazz), because I don't look at it as a certain thing. It’s creative music. Duke Ellington said, ‘Jazz means freedom of expression.’ and I think that everything that I do, for the most part, feels like jazz.” —Terri Lyne Carrington to the author, 2012. 

As of today, thanks to an additional offline contribution, I am over half the way there to reaching my crowdfunding goal for my book Freedom of Expression: Interviews With Women in Jazz. The money raised will go towards paying a copy editor and graphic designer to help me complete the book, which I plan to self-publish in January 2015. The interviews are all complete at this stage (a complete list of the interviewees can be found on the campaign's page on Indiegogo) as is a 24-page introduction to the book which I've excerpted throughout this blog.

If you've made a contribution to the campaign, I thank you. If you haven't, please consider doing so. The campaign's "perks" include a signed copy of the book. I can't come to your house and cook or wash your car. But you can get a copy of what will be a well-edited, beautifully designed book. And how many books about women in jazz are there on your shelf? Uh-huh. Yep. Now imagine this book not only on your shelf at home, but in classrooms, at jazz camps, in libraries...

The campaign will continue through September. Have a wonderful weekend everyone. And thank you again for all the support.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Make it great!

Mindi Abair Portrait, Harry Duarte Studio, Los Angeles, CA, January 22, 2014 (Copyright Mindi Abair)
“I believe your book is great to have out there in the public eye. Women who are working towards a career in music need role models and these role models are sometimes hard to find. The idea that you can introduce music students to women who have broken through the usual barriers is inspiring. Definitely find a way to get it to students and teachers. It's a beautiful tool to inspire women of all ages to go out there and be what they dream to be.” — Saxophonist Mindi Abair

Stay tuned. In August I will be launching a crowd funding campaign on Indiegogo to raise funds for the book's copy editing and graphic design costs. The plan is to self-publish the book in January 2015. More details to come. Thank you for your support!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Interviews with Aurora Nealand and Sharel Cassity

Saxophonist, singer, composer and performance artist Aurora Neeland

In the time since my previous blog post, I've interviewed saxophonist and composer Sharel Cassity for the Women In Jazz book project, and tomorrow I'll be interviewing New Orleans-based saxophonist, singer and composer Aurora Nealand. These are two very different musicians, and having them both in the same book only helps to illuminate the scope of the music and activity that falls under the umbrella of "jazz."

This brings the interviewee total to 37, and I'm thinking I'll interview one more musician before I put on the brakes. It's amazing how much transcribing and editing I've done in the past two and a half years, and I've got one more push before the copy is ready to be, er, copy edited. So I'm reaching the "end" of the project, which just means I'll just be shifting gears and focusing on either having someone publish the book OR publishing it on my own. More on all of that later...

As always, thank you for supporting this project. If you have a second to give the Women In Jazz book project's Facebook page a proverbial "like" that would be great. Doing so does help spread the word about this book and more importantly the participating musicians.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Think Visual: Excerpt from the introduction to Women In Jazz

(The following excerpt is from the introduction to my book Women In Jazz. The introduction includes a VERY brief history of jazz with a focus on the contributions by women to the art of jazz.)

Think Visual

I come from a generation that’s naturally feminist. Our mothers were fighting for 
all kinds of women’s rights in the 60s and the 70s, and we grew up with these iconic, 
feminist, musical heroes. Women of my generation are strong, and hopefully the ones 
that are coming after us are as well.—Jane Monheit to the author, 2012

The “iconic, feminist, musical heroes” Monheit speaks of in her interview for this book certainly include several female musicians outside of jazz who found their way into the popular consciousness thanks to a U.S. cable channel called MTV, the “M” standing for “music video.”

Singer Pat Benatar’s “You Better Run” was the second video MTV aired  when the channel launched on August 1, 1981. The video featured Benatar, rocking a pixie haircut and leather pants, lip-synching the song’s lyrics with conviction in front of an all-male band on what would become the quintessential set for many 80s-era music videos: an empty warehouse rehearsal space.

Some of the biggest-selling singles in the U.S. throughout the 1980s were songs of female empowerment performed by female singers who possessed a visual style that drew equal inspiration from the streets, classic Hollywood films, and the avant-garde. These top-charting artists included Madonna, Annie Lennox of Eurythmics, Cyndi Lauper, Teena Marie, Sinéad O’Connor, Janet Jackson, Jody Watley, and Gloria Estefan. Watley has said of the songs on her 1987 self-titled debut album: “I wanted a sense of strength to be conveyed . . . the woman as victorious, the survivor. . . .”26 MTV’s audience reveled in the visual cues of these now classic videos, many of which depicted liberation from the prescribed societal expectations of a woman’s “place” in rock and roll and the world at large. As one half of the British electronic soul duo Eurythmics, Annie Lennox appeared in the band’s videos as a leather-clad dominatrix, a wig-wearing femme fatale, and herself in male drag complete with facial stubble. Donna Summer, Tina Turner, and Aretha Franklin also starred in heavily rotated music videos that put African-American women into the consciousness of pop music culture.

The Grammy award-winning vocal quartet the Manhattan Transfer is a rare example of jazz artists who embraced the visual style of the times.

“That was part of the uniqueness of the Manhattan Transfer,” says vocalist Cheryl Bentyne, who joined the quartet in 1978 and is interviewed in this book. “Here was this group sounding like an old 1930s big band ensemble, but looking insane. It was an interesting combination of the visual and the vocal.”

Soon after Bentyne joined the quartet in 1978, they began to work with choreographer Toni Basil (who danced on the television show Soul Train and later worked with the Talking Heads) and a young Jean Paul Gaultier (“before Madonna got him”) to create a visual look that was equally inspired by 1920s art deco, 1960s-era space-age fashion, and late 70s, early 80s British new wave.

Despite what in retrospect could be described as a time period of provoca¬tive experimentation in popular music with visual artistry, music, and gender, many musicians outside of pop music considered videos to be just another form of advertising that perpetuated an unhealthy emphasis on the visual (i.e., looks) as opposed to musical talent and artistic vision.

“There’s a lot of sexualizing of women in this industry,” says Monheit in her interview for this book, “and there’s just no place for that in our genre.”

Throughout her career, Monheit has cultivated what she herself describes as “a glamorous persona,” but not because of pressure from a record label or manager.

Singer Jane Monheit
“If that’s who we are as people,” says Monheit. “If we want to put on the sexy dress and the high heels, then hell yeah. But if somebody is telling us to do it and we don’t want to, then absolutely not.”

Although MTV as it was circa-1981 is no more, we are currently living in a time where it is generally expected that music, whether it’s pop, jazz, or classical, be attached to and supported by some sort of visual component. YouTube continues to dominate as the number-one platform for consumption of mu¬sic from all genres and eras, often uploaded by users ignorant (or ignoring) the penalties of copyright infringement (although recording labels do upload and manage artist uploads). If we aren’t listening while watching some sort of visual presentation, music is often providing a sort of filmic underscore for work-related or leisurely activities.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

What is Jazz?

Terri Lyne Carrrington (Photo by Tracy Love)

Here's another excerpt from the introduction to my forthcoming book Freedom of Expression: Interviews With Women in Jazz. The book includes Q&A interviews with 37 female jazz musicians of all ages and ethnic backgrounds and representing just about every style of jazz one can imagine.

I don’t doubt my connection with [jazz], because I don’t look at it as a certain thing. It’s creative music. Duke Ellington said, “Jazz means freedom of expression.” And I think that everything that I do, for the most part, feels like jazz. —Terri Lyne Carrington to the author, 2012 

Jazz emerged in New Orleans at the beginning of the 20th century as an amalgam of blues, ragtime, gospel, military brass marching music, and key elements of European classical music. From its earliest beginnings, a heavily syncopated, almost visceral rhythmic feel that emphasized the second and fourth beat in 4/4 time helped to define this sometimes slow, sometimes fast, yet always danceable new music. It was played by both ensembles and soloists, in bars, brothels, dance halls, and on the street, perhaps most famously as accompaniment to New Orleans’ “jazz funeral” processions. Though it was originated by and for African Americans, almost immediately, musicians of European descent began playing the music as well.

The word “jazz” was not used in New Orleans to describe this music. The word—a slang term that originally meant “energy and liveliness”—first appeared in writing about baseball. Dr. Lewis Porter, pianist and professor of music at Rutgers University in Newark, writes: “Whites started to call the new music ‘jazz’ in Chicago and possibly California in 1915. Because it was a new word, and because it was slang, spellings varied at first ( jazz, jas, jaz, jass, jasz), but since 1918 it has been ‘jazz.’ ” Despite its use in cringe-inducing racist lyrics of minstrel songs (e.g., Gus Kahn and Henry Marshall’s 1917 recording “That Funny Jas Band from Dixieland”), the word began to be used, by people of all colors, to refer to what was then a new and exciting musical form.

Musical improvisation, including collective improvisation, solo improvisation with the melodies of popular songs (also known as “standards”), and improvised accompaniment (or “comping”) is an essential component of this music, although the same can be said for several other musical genres, including European classical music before 1900.

Though labeled by some as “America’s classical music,” jazz has never stopped developing, and from the beginning embraced and incorporated new technologies and concepts. For example, its earliest practitioners saw the potential for a range of sophisticated musical expression on instruments that at the time were relatively utilitarian in their use, such as the drum kit and the saxophone. This spirit of exploration in jazz continues to this day. As guitarist and composer Pat Metheny writes in the liner notes to his 2010 album, Orchestrion: “One of the inspiring hallmarks of the jazz tradition through the decades has been the way that the form has willfully ushered in fresh musical contexts. . . . This pursuit of change, and the way that various restless souls along the way have bridged the roots of the form with the new possibilities of their own time, has been a major defining element . . . in the music’s evolution.”

Thursday, February 13, 2014

"The Girls in the Band" screens at Sundance Cinemas Houston Feb 14-20

Attn: Houston! Judy Chaikin's "The Girls in the Band" runs February 14-20 at Sundance Cinemas Houston. This is an excellent film that documents the contribution of women to the art of jazz and includes plenty of interviews with now senior aged players, recalling the years before and during World War II, as well as younger contemporary players such as Anat Cohen, Sherrie Maricle, and Esperanza Spalding.

This is a great film for students of the craft, seasoned players and anybody with an interest in music and U.S. history. I've seen it twice and plan to see it again.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Interview with Jennifer Leitham

Jennifer Leitham (photo by Mary Ann Halpin)
This year, I'll be wrapping up the interviews, which now number 33 and counting, for my Women In Jazz book proejct, as well as completing a rather expansive introduction to the book that provides some historical context for the project.

Next up, I'll be interviewing bassist Jennifer Leitham, who is widely regarded as one of the finest bassists of our time. Her resume includes playing bass with Doc Severinsen, the Woody Herman Thundering Herd, and Mel Tormé. As a bandleader, she has recorded three albums with the bass presented uncompromisingly as the lead instrument in a trio format and featuring original compositions that draw on many styles across the history of jazz.

The award-winning film “I Stand Corrected” (2012) documents Jennifer’s transition from John to Jennifer, a transition she bravely made at a peak in her career and with the support of several high profile musicians, including aforementioned Severinsen and Tormé. In recent years, the trans-rights movement, a movement that demands tolerance and equal rights for transgender men and women, has grown to a point where more young people than ever are able to find the support they need to come out as transgender and be safe from infringement upon their human rights, bullying, or worse. At the time of this writing, over 600 U.S. colleges and universities have "adopted nondiscriminatory policies to cover gender expression," and many of those schools have jazz music programs. Leitham’s story will be a welcome contribution to the diversity of voices and perspectives already offered in the book.