3 Ways to Show Respect in Jazz: A Woman’s Perspective

Photo Credit Lawrence A. Randall

This past weekend, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to attend a wonderful panel presentation, “Will Women be the Savior of Jazz?” at the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival. This panel was led by Sunny Sumter, Executive Director of the DC Jazz Festival, and panelists included artists Regina Carter and Chelsea Green. The panelists described their experiences as a women instrumentalist on the jazz scene while Sunny asked questions to explore the topic of women in jazz. The topic of respect came up several times, and I am writing this post to give 3 ways we can all show respect on and off the bandstand. I truly believe that jazz is intertwined with social justice, and we should embrace inclusivity, respect, and activism as part of the music of jazz. The good news is, these tips will work for anyone, not just help women in jazz.

Tip #1: Be Early

As a band leader, it took me about 5 years to realize that when musicians were late, it affected my playing. This may sound crazy, but my improvisation chokes up when I’m stressed. Improvising music requires vulnerability – the ability to relax allows thoughts to flow and creativity to inspire. When folks are late, I found myself in a stress ball and more concerned about their well-being than the music. The best thing you can do for yourself as a musician is to be the most reliable, on-time person in the world. Show up an hour early.

Tip #2: Don’t be Weird

If a woman instrumentalist wants to talk about music, don’t treat her any differently than you would a friend. Women instrumentalists are missing out on the camraderie, and this affects their longevity in the profession, development as musicians, and economy of playing. Hire a woman for their playing, and do not objectify them. I have seen women get hired time and time again because dudes were searching, looking, and hoping. I’ve seen women placed in dangerous situations when they think they are going to a “session” but it turns out to be a weird sort of trap. Women play no differently from men, and they should be treated with the same respect you would a brother or a best friend.

Tip #3: Differentiate between Ego and Confidence

I see jam sessions as toxic environments when people cut off someone else’s solo only to take 16 choruses of their own. This annoys the heck out of me, especially when folks don’t know changes. Women get pushed out and off, and that makes it difficult to keep going. At the same time, it’s a two way street – get up on the bandstand with a plan, a solo that arcs, and play music that is interesting enough that folks will want to listen more. To me, this scenario is an example of the difference between ego and confidence. I try to have high self-confidence but low ego. When someone cuts me off, I view them as insecure, with a big ego and low self-confidence. They have something to prove, and need to push others down to get there. Try to work on competing with yourself, plan your personal bests, and let others do their thing. There is no need to insult anyone, make excuses, and create strife. Just do your thing, and let others do their thing too. And keep your solos to 2 choruses at the jam sessions, folks.

What do you think? What are ways we can all create a more respectful environment? Respect for women is beneficial to everyone; it will lift the profession, which will in turn lift the economy of the music, the venues, and Jazz.

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