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By Michael Fagien
The respective occupations of a man and woman have been disputed since Adam and Eve.
For more than 40 years, JAZZIZ editors have also debated the pros and cons of producing an entire issue dedicated to women. However, we always rationalized that it’s necessary to emphasize the many great women players that do indeed get overlooked in the media, on the club and concert circuit and in the record industry, businesses largely run by men.
One important factor that is often left out of the sexism argument is a lack of distinction between equality and equity. If the former is about allocating the same resources or opportunities to both parties, and the latter recognizes different circumstances with the aim of reaching an equal outcome, then might the arguments require a deeper understanding of both the inequities and inequalities of women in jazz? Equality strives for everyone to be treated exactly the same way, while equity offers what everyone needs to succeed. Either way, our contributors — including women — do more justice delving into these distinctions in this special edition than I could ever do here in this space.
This edition of JAZZIZ is intended neither as retribution nor an apology for the fact that jazz and its gatekeepers have always been disproportionally male. It is a celebration of many great and talented jazz musicians who happen to be women and too often take a back seat to jazzmen, with an aim to mitigate the routine and gender-biased description of women players when gender is almost never used to describe a male player (e.g., Melba Liston is a legendary trombonist, not a legendary “woman” trombonist).
Sociopolitical ideologies aside, I’m not here to pontificate about equality, equity or even a justification for doing an entire issue dedicated to women in the first place. I will tell you that, while putting this issue together, we had a difficult time fitting a small fraction of phenomenally talented and deserving women on the scene today in the limited space we have in print, on our companion CD and LP and on our website. Some of the women you’ll read about include pianist Kris Davis, whose live performance with her band at the Village Vanguard shows her very much in the vanguard of today’s jazz world; bassist and vocalist Meshell Ndegeocello, who continues to chart her own course through her expressive, genre-defying original music; vibraphonist and educator Cecilia Smith, who brings renewed attention to era-spanning jazz giant Mary Lou Williams; and the late Dorothy Ashby, who taught listeners that the harp could indeed swing on her landmark recordings.
The nature of any themed issue is, by necessity, limited to the space and time we have to produce it. So, with that in mind, we present a curated look at some of the women who are contributing to the present and future of jazz, and honor some of the women who helped shape the music. My pledge to you, valued readers, is that JAZZIZ will always be a place for talented women to get the spotlight they’re due.