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At this year’s Winter Jazzfest in New York, one of the world’s biggest jazz festivals, women took center stage in more ways than one. In a year when more than a third of the festival’s acts had female bandleaders -- the highest in its history -- it also joined 44 international music festivals to sign onto Keychange, a European music industry initiative for gender parity. Ivette Feliciano reports.
Composer and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington is a three-time Grammy award winner. Perhaps the most prominent female drummer in jazz, Carrington was a child prodigy.
TERRI LYNE CARRINGTON:
I started playing the drums at 7 but at 10 I got my union card and started working. My dad was a saxophone player and drummer and my grandfather was a drummer, so I had music running through my blood.
After four decades in the music business, Carrington gives credit not only to her family, but also her mentors, who are living legends: drummer Jack DeJohnette, saxophonist Wayne Shorter and pianist Herbie Hancock.
As my career moved forward there weren't so many female peers on the instrument as well, so I just felt like I was you know in a bit of a boys club but I felt like you know somebody they let into the club you know somebody that was an exception. And then I started you know realizing the older I got that, wow, this needs to change. There should be more women that feel ownership in the music.
When Carrington won a Grammy for Best Jazz Instrumental Album in 2014, she was the first and is still the only woman to win in that category. Her win defied the traditional stereotype of women in jazz: they are often seen as vocalists, but not instrumentalists. But women were a bright spot at this year's annual Winter JazzFest in New York City, one of the biggest jazz festivals in the world, more than a third of the acts had female bandleaders, the highest number in the festival's 14 year history. Just this week, the festival made a commitment to furthering gender equality in jazz. It became one of 45 international music festivals that signed onto a European music industry initiative pledging to implement a 50/50 gender balance in its lineup and conference panels by 2022. It's called "Keychange."
At Winter JazzFest, Terri Lyne Carrington was joined by another Grammy-award-winning artist, the bassist and vocalist Esperanza Spalding. They also took part in a panel on jazz and gender. there, the conversation was not just about the need for better female representation, but the sexist culture that female instrumentalists say they regularly face.
Esperanza, I just wanted to ask you too, how you feel sexism has impacted your career specifically as a bassist?
You know maybe it doesn't bother everybody who walks into that room and has to say oh like no I'm not somebody's girlfriend or a singer but like I'm here to play. You don't notice that you're bracing. You don't notice that you're, you're sending verbal, behavioral message: I am not accessible to you in any way except for the music can't touch me. You can't kiss me. I don't like you. Don't get near me energetically cause it's not that game. And believe it or not, that takes a lot of energy to maintain. So for the first time being in a group of all women, I personally know accessed aspects of my musicianship that I never got to because I was in a battle. And you know you're not free in defense mode, you're in survival mode and the music needs more than survival energy.
One of the youngest bandleaders at the festival was 19-year-old percussionist Sasha Berliner, a sophomore at New York City's New School. In her newly assembled quintet, she plays the vibraphone.
There's just nothing else that sounds like it. And I like that it can be melodic and also harmonic and also percussive.
While in high school, Berliner started taking professional gigs in San Francisco and often found herself the only woman performing at a show.
It was a bit uncomfortable at first because not only was I the only woman but I was by far the youngest person there.
She recently wrote an open letter to the jazz community, in which she decried the staggeringly small number of women in jazz and, she wrote of the sexism endured by "even those few women who have been deemed some of the utmost skilled musicians in the jazz community."
I think the majority of people are not deliberately sexist. But they may not know about their actions or sort of tendencies in terms of hiring people, in terms of representation are just a product of this culture that's never really supported women.
She wrote of male players and teachers who she believed held low expectations of her because she was a woman, and made sexist comments about female players. Berliner also described a history of sexual harassment by an older, would-be mentor.
It actually you know went a lot farther than just like being touchy or giving hugs and stuff and I just got really angry at myself for that. And I think that ruined a lot of my confidence. I had trust issues with a lot of teachers going forward just because I didn't want that to happen again.
For Terri Lyne Carrington, one way to help end sexism in jazz is to involve more women: including recruiting more female teachers at music schools. as a professor at the Berklee College of Music for over a decade, she sees the positive effect of being a female role model for her male students.
That's why I love teaching because I really feel like I can make a difference in somebody's life. And often, it's a young man's life.
In the meantime, both Carrington and Berliner have signed an open letter, started by a group of female jazz musicians inspired by the "MeToo" movement — declaring, in part, "We will not be silent. We have voice. We have zero tolerance for sexual harassment." The letter calls on institutions and the music community to take on a greater role in creating a safe and equitable environment for not just women, but people of all different backgrounds. The letter has more than 800 signatures.
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Ivette Feliciano shoots, produces and reports on camera for PBS NewsHour Weekend. Before starting with NewsHour in 2013, she worked as a one-person-band correspondent for the News 12 Networks, where she won a New York Press Club Award for her coverage of Super Storm Sandy, which ravaged the East Coast in 2012. Prior to that, Ivette was the Associate Producer of Latin American news for Worldfocus, a nationally televised, daily international news show seen on Public Television. While at Worldfocus, Ivette served as the show’s Field Producer and Reporter for Latin America, covering special reports on the Mexican drug war as well as a 5-part series out of Bolivia, which included an interview with President Evo Morales. In 2010, she co-produced a documentary series on New York’s baseball history that aired on Channel Thirteen. Ivette holds a Master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, where she specialized in broadcast journalism.
Zachary Green began working in online and broadcast news in 2009. Since then he has produced stories all over the U.S. and overseas in Ireland and Haiti. In his time at NewsHour, he has reported on a wide variety of topics, including climate change, immigration, voting rights, and the arts. He also produced a series on guaranteed income programs in the U.S. and won a 2015 National Headliner Award in business and consumer reporting for his report on digital estate planning. Prior to joining Newshour, Zachary was an Associate Producer for Need to Know on PBS, during which he assisted in producing stories on gun violence and healthcare, among others. He also provided narration for the award-winning online documentary series, “Retro Report”.
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