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)
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.