Tuesday, April 28, 2015

REMINDER: Wednesday, April 29, Party and Protest to Support Blind Auditions for the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra



A reminder! On Wednesday, April 29 at 6 p.m., on the sidewalk outside the Jazz at Lincoln Center Gala, Frederick P. Rose Hall, Broadway at 60th Street, NYC, JazzWomenand Girls Advocates​ will be hosting a party and protest to support blind auditions and open job postings for the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. In its 28 years of existence, the JaLC has never had a permanent woman player.

This type of activism is exactly what is needed to instigate major changes in institutionalized gender discrimination. Even if you’re not in NYC, please consider sharing this flyer so people are aware of this protest.


Right now, you can tune in to WNYC Radio​ to hear Brian Lehrer's​ interview trumpeter and JazzWomen and Girls Advocate Chairperson Ellen Seeling about the evening’s rally. (Ellen is one of the 37 musicians I interviewed for my forthcoming book, Freedom of Expression: Interviews With Women in Jazz

Wish I could be there! 

Here is the flyer for this important rally:




Saturday, April 11, 2015

April 29 Party and Protest to Support Blind Auditions for the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra

On Wednesday, April 29 at 6 p.m., on the street in front of Lincoln Center (NYC), Jazz Women and Girls Advocates will be hosting a party and protest to support blind auditions and open job postings for the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. In its 28 years of existence, the JaLC orchestra has never had a permanent woman player.

This type of activism is exactly what is needed to instigate major changes in institutionalized gender discrimination. Obviously, we still have a long way to go, and trumpeter, bandleader, educator and Jazz Women and Girls Advocates chairperson Ellen Seeling is not afraid to point out this fact. 

Check out the event flyer below by clicking on it, and please share widely. Thanks.



Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Introducing Aurora Nealand (Excerpted from "Freedom of Expression: Interviews With Women in Jazz")

With the help of a wonderful copyeditor and a wonderful proofreader, I am pulling together over 350 pages of interviews and introductory material for what will be my first book, entitled Freedom of Expression: Interviews With Women in Jazz. We're taking our time to make sure the book is nothing less than spectacular, and there is still much work to be done. In the meantime, I would like to share with you some excerpts from the book. Each interview will be presented in a straightforward, Q&A format, so that the reader can "hear" each musician's story in her own words.

I hope you enjoy these previews of what will be a truly expansive, entertaining, and in-depth look at jazz and the musicians, specifically women, who are taking the music into the future.

Aurora Nealand (saxophonist, singer, composer)

Some of the most important adult friends I have made in my lifetime (including my wife) are people I met when I lived in New Orleans, Louisiana. When I first landed in that city back in 1993 (via a 24-hour Greyhound bus ride from Columbus, Ohio—I don’t recommend it!), I honestly felt as if I had stepped into another world, or perhaps another time. I witnessed my first jazz funeral my first week in the city. Not a staged parade for tourists, but the real deal, slowly making its way through the uptown neighborhood I was staying in toward Carrollton. When I stop to remember, I realize most of my fondest mem¬ories of New Orleans are of moments that took place late at night, in the dark, and involved music. Lots of music, including funk performed by young brass bands for packed clubs of sweaty dancers; contemporary, sometimes free-form music by incredible local musicians; DJs spinning house music, as well as the then-new jungle and trip-hop recordings that were coming out of Eng-land; rock and roll, opera, classical music—even music theater. In his book The Year Before the Flood, Ned Sublette writes that in New Orleans, “all times are present at once.” I know exactly what he means, and I’m not even a native.

In New Orleans, in the early years of the 20th century, women instrumentalists and singers were an active part of the city ’s musical community and important contributors to the musical development of jazz. New Orleans is a very feminine city. Writer Louise McKinney describes its geography accordingly: “. . . tucked into a turn of the Mississippi River . . . putting her as it does at the bottom of the Mississippi’s muddy overflow . . . rich with dense, fertile soil . . . this bottoming out, end-of-the-line location also places her in a deep psychic realm. It is the subconscious, the basement of the soul, where dark inexplicable alchemy occurs, often considered the root of creativity and expressly feminine.”

With all of the above in mind, I knew at the beginning of this project that not including a musician from New Orleans in a book subtitled “Interviews With Women in Jazz” would be a huge oversight. And given the fact that my goal with this book is not just to discuss where jazz has been but where it may be headed, New Orleans-based saxophonist and composer Aurora Nealand seemed like the perfect person to reach out to for an interview.

Nealand arrived in New Orleans after studying at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and the L’École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq in Paris, France. Not surprisingly, given her academic background, her creative work extends into the worlds of experimental theater and performance art, and freely amalgamates the music of New Orleans’ past (the “traditional”) with contemporary sounds, concepts, and spirit. Nealand leads the Royal Roses, a “non-traditional traditional jazz band” that is a part of a larger local scene of musicians digging into a style of pre-jazz jazz informed by collective improvisation and a desire to get listeners on their feet and dancing. She is also codirector of the Sound Observatory New Orleans (SONO), a performance lab and venue for local and visiting artists-in-residence.

Over the course of our interview, it became apparent to me that the premillennial New Orleans where I used to live and make music has changed and is changing. If “all times are present at once” in New Orleans, what I look forward to is how a creative tension between the traditional and the not-so-traditional will continue to shape and nurture the city ’s musical culture.




Aurora Nealand and the Royal Roses

Introducing Helen Sung (Excerpted from "Freedom of Expression: Interviews With Women in Jazz")

With the help of a wonderful copyeditor and a wonderful proofreader, I am pulling together over 350 pages of interviews and introductory material for what will be my first book, entitled Freedom of Expression: Interviews With Women in Jazz. We're taking our time to make sure the book is nothing less than spectacular, and there is still much work to be done. In the meantime, I would like to share with you some excerpts from the book. Each interview will be presented in a straightforward, Q&A format, so that the reader can "hear" each musician's story in her own words.

I hope you enjoy these previews of what will be a truly expansive, entertaining, and in-depth look at jazz and the musicians, specifically women, who are taking the music into the future.

Helen Sung (pianist, composer)

The piano may not be the first instrument most people associate with Texas. But in the early 1900s it wasn’t unusual to find a piano in homes of both poor and wealthy families throughout the state, where several immigrant communities absorbed Spanish, Mexican, Cajun, German, East European, and African-American musical idioms. Along with the guitar, pianos were played in sharecropping communities, the popular musical styles of the day being “rags” (or “ragtime”) and “slow blues.” Classical and popular music would be played from sheet music, note for note, but when the grownups weren’t around, improvisation would inevitably happen. Brothers George and Hersal Thomas and later Moon Mullican (“King of the Hillbilly Pianists”) are a few of the Texas-born pianists who helped to develop if not outright invent the rhythmic concepts, bass lines, and melodic phrasing that infused pre-1950s rock and roll and jazz.

Houston-born pianist and composer Helen Sung did not grow up playing blues, boogie-woogie, rock and roll, or anything else close to jazz. But in her last year as an undergraduate classical piano performance major at the University of Texas at Austin, she attended a concert by New Orleans pianist and singer Harry Connick Jr., and was deeply inspired by what she heard.

“Classical music never affected me like that,” says Sung of that concert in her interview. “There was an irresistible passion and energy in (Connick’s) playing. And the fact that he was improvising blew me away, because classical musicians are all about the written notes.”

In the years after that concert, Sung would go on to study with some of the masters of jazz at the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance. In 1999, she was a semi-finalist in the institute’s Jazz Piano Competition, and in 2007, won the Kennedy Center’s Mary Lou Williams Jazz Piano Competition. Sung has played with several jazz masters, including Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter, and Clark Terry, and appears on Terri Lyne Carrington’s 2001 Grammy-winning album, The Mosaic Project. Sung has also released several highly praised albums, including Anthem for a New Day, which incorporates her classical training with jazz in what she describes as an “organic and integrated way.”

Several of the musicians interviewed in this book studied and seriously considered a career as a classical musician before making a shift to playing jazz, but Sung’s transition is one of the most dramatic. In her interview, she speaks candidly about the challenges she faced in mastering its language.

“All I knew is that I wanted to find out more about this music,” says Sung. “I wanted to be able to really play it, but not as a classical player who could fake it because she had the chops, you know? I wanted to be authentic, genuine. I felt jazz was a music that had to be respected and honored in that way.”




Helen Sung "Anthem for a New Day"

Introducing Val Jenty (Excerpted from "Freedom of Expression: Interviews With Women in Jazz")

With the help of a wonderful copyeditor and a wonderful proofreader, I am pulling together over 350 pages of interviews and introductory material for what will be my first book, entitled Freedom of Expression: Interviews With Women in Jazz. We're taking our time to make sure the book is nothing less than spectacular, and there is still much work to be done. In the meantime, I would like to share with you some excerpts from the book. Each interview will be presented in a straightforward, Q&A format, so that the reader can "hear" each musician's story in her own words.

I hope you enjoy these previews of what will be a truly expansive, entertaining, and in-depth look at jazz and the musicians, specifically women, who are taking the music into the future.

Val Jenty (electronics, percussion)

Any book that purports to speak accurately about the roots of jazz must ac-knowledge the role Afro-Caribbean culture played in its conception and evolution. For example, in the case of the Haitian religion Vodou, author Michael Ventura writes: “The question of how Haitian Voodoo [his spelling] came to the continental United States, and the question of why jazz originated in New Orleans, are in fact parts of the same question.”

Like Palo and Santeria in Cuba, and Candomblê and Umbanda in Brazil, Vodou represents a new world formulation of African religious practices, practices that include sacred drums and rhythms. Beginning in 1817, these rhythms found a public forum in New Orleans’ Congo Square where, every Sunday afternoon, slaves were permitted to congregate, dance, and play music. To this day, Vodou, both as a religious practice and a musicological source, continues to have a pervasive influence on New Orleans’ culture.

Haitian-born electronic artist and percussionist Val Jeanty began playing Vodou drums at the age of 5.

“I pretty much grew up in what we call ‘lakou,’ ” explains Jeanty. “A lakou is just like a yard, and that is where all the ceremonies happen, all the prayers happen, all the drummers practice, all the singers practice, and all the dancers practice.”

Now based in New York City, Jeanty uses an array of electronic instruments and controllers, as well as sacred hand drums, to create music that is poetic and multi-layered, combining Vodou’s rhythms, rhythms that signify and call to its gods and goddesses, with modern electronica- and jazz-infused beats.

Given the breadth and complexities of Vodou’s influence, even the most conscientious historians and anthropologists may confuse its practices with its misrepresentations in popular culture. For example, in her 1935 collection of African-American folklore, Mules and Men, Zora Neale Hurston uses the word “hoodoo” interchangeably with “voodoo” (“as pronounced by the whites”) and inadvertently misaligns African- and Native American-based medicinal practices with the tools of religious worship. Such confusion continues to this day in souvenir shops across the southern U.S. where dolls, mojo bags, gris gris, powders, and charms are inaccurately branded and sold as accessories of Vodou worship. And I could write another book listing and describing American films and television shows that perpetuate ignorant and racist stereotypes about Vodou in the name of cheap thrills and gore.

However, there are several thoughtful, thoroughly researched books and film documentaries about Vodou, including Maya Deren’s 1953 book, Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti and film of the same title (shot between 1947 and 1954), Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn by Karen McCarthy Brown, and Darius James and Oliver Hardt’s recent documentary, The United States of Hoodoo [2012]. Jeanty is featured prominently in James and Hardt’s film.

Jeanty ’s musical skills and sensitivity match that of any so-called “traditional” musician. Not surprisingly, in addition to performing and recording as a solo artist, she has collaborated with several highly respected musicians from the world of contemporary jazz, including Terri Lyne Carrington, Craig Taborn, Steve Coleman, and Geri Allen.

In her interview, Jeanty describes how sound, especially rhythms and specific frequencies, can compel a spiritual awakening in the listener, even if the listener is unaware of the historical origins of that sound. Her music often surprises even the most seasoned of jazz musicians.

“When I’m playing with a jazz musician,” says Jeanty, “I’ll play something, and they might say, ‘You know, I heard you play some African stuff, and I really, really like that.’ Yeah, yeah, yeah!” [laughs]





Haiti Lévé performed by Val Jenty