Women On Record \\ Women In Jazz: ‘Something Needs to Change’

1st March 2019

This feature is the second from our Women On Record series – a trio of features that shines a bright light on incredible women in Jazz in the lead-up to International Women’s Day, 8 March

It’s no secret that that the majority of Jazz musicians out there are guys; a study in 2016 by composer Issie Barratt found that only 6% of people studying in the UK’s conservatoires are female – and it shows on the stage, too. The reasons why might not be glaringly obvious – at least, not to some – but Women In Jazz are on a mission to change that – whatever route the artists are coming through. 

Founders Lou Paley and Nina Fine host a regular show on Soho Radio, curate live shows – read below for details of their Ronnie Scott’s and Jazz in the Round spots – and are about to lead their first radio workshops. High on ambition and enthusiasm, they’re working towards launching a festival in 2020. 

We talk to Lou about the mission. 

\\ What was the inspiration behind Women In Jazz? When did you start it and what’s the goal?

Women In Jazz was born from a desire to champion the phenomenal female Jazz musicians in the UK. Jazz is a genre that influences, blends and communicates so many experiences and musical expressions, but it’s a known truth that women have often been under-represented as artists, writers and also impactful individuals in the industry. Our mission is to solve the under-representation of women in UK Jazz. We will achieve this by championing female musicians from different backgrounds and Jazz genres, as well as nurturing young, emerging artists to help build successful careers in the industry.

We will nurture female talent through workshops, live events and mentorship programmes so that women are confident to pursue a creative career in Jazz in any discipline be it an artist, promoter, presenter – you name it! In the next five years, we want to see an increase in stats of young women pursuing a creative career in Jazz and the music industry.  

\\ Where does your motivation come from? 

Our stories are two of many. We’ve both worked in different areas within Jazz: performance, music journalism, events production and education. Sharing and talking about our experiences with one another, allowed us to recognise common threads; seeing young girls not pursuing professional careers because they didn’t feel good enough, or because there was little representation of women killing it in the Jazz space, lack of mentorship, feeling intimidated by certain environments like jazz jams that demand a specific style of musicianship and attitude. There are so many reasons, predominantly structural, of why women are under-represented in the Jazz space – women constituted only 5% of Jazz instrumentalists in the UK in 2016. At the same time, the stats are starting to change and the conversations are becoming more varied – it’s an exciting time!


\\ Can you tell us a bit more about your personal experiences, which made you feel that WIJ was necessary?

Over the years, we have worked first-hand with young female Jazz musicians. Many of these musicians often felt they weren’t good enough to continue with music, despite having received scholarships to some of the best Jazz colleges, both in the UK and internationally. When asking about their concerns, a common response was ‘we don’t have any female role-models to look up to’ – this is when we thought ‘something needs to change’.


\\ Female musicians are becoming more visible than perhaps ever before in Jazz. Would you agree?

Critically acclaimed female musicians are certainly at the forefront of different Jazz scenes in London at the moment, including wonderful artists such as Judi Jackson, Cassie Kinoshi and Rebecca Nash. The increase in visible representation is a growing outcome of a number of factors: Organisations such as Tomorrow’s Warriors and The Roundhouse, have created successful mentorship programmes for nurturing young, female talent. Developments in technology have made visibility of different musicians far more varied. Finally, composers, band-leaders, journalists and musicians such as Issie Barratt, Yazz Ahmed and Kate Hutchinson have been particularly vocal about female representation in Jazz – it’s important to keep the conversation going!

\\ The idea of the ‘token female’ in the male dominated jazz scene – whether it’s a festival booking or label signing – is really problematic. You want to see effort made for inclusion, yet at the same time, you don’t want these moves to be a cosmetic gesture. What are your thoughts?

This is a very important thought, and one that doesn’t have a simple answer. We need to be careful, because we don’t want a situation where male artists feel threatened or excluded, or where female artists, who have worked hard to get to where they are, feel marginalised by quotas. In addition, putting young women in positions they are not ready for, can have serious repercussions; it’s potentially constricting to their creative development. The change needs to happen from a young age in the education sector, and it’s the labels, venues, journalists and musicians who can help these women on their journey.


\\ You’re launching radio workshops for young people; men and women. For a platform orientated around giving women more opportunities, tell us why you decided to open up submissions to men, too?

The reason we created the radio workshops, was to give both facilitators and also everyone in the women in Jazz community, the opportunity to develop their artistry. Our community is made up of all genders; statistically 55% of our audience is women, and 45% is men. If we are going to be sustainable, we need to be inclusive of everyone. Men championing women, is just as important as women championing women!


\\ Tell us about some of your upcoming events!

We’ve got some really exciting events and workshops coming up. First, our sold-out Ronnie Scott’s show featuring Jessica Lauren 4; Shirley Tetteh and Zakia on 3rd March. Ms Maurice at Kansas Smitty’s on 3 April. We’ll also be hosting a Women in Jazz take-over, with Jez Nelson and Chris Phillips at Jazz In the Round on 27 May, featuring Nikki Yeoh, Dee Byrne’s Entropi and Camilla George.

On the workshop front, we’re partnering with Worldwide FM, and radio presenters from BBC 1xtra and NTS radio for our first series of radio workshops in March. DJ and business workshops will be announced soon, so keep your eyes peeled! www.womeninjazz.co.uk for all info.


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