Women in Jazz, May 10 and Beyond

Women in Jazz, May 10 and Beyond

Mayor Bloomberg has declared May 10, 2013 to be “Women in Jazz Day” to celebrate the arrival of the documentary “The Girls in the Band” at the Lincoln Center.

This isn’t the first day celebrating women in jazz. Texas celebrated a one-time Women in Jazz Day on June 2, 2007, honoring the accomplishments of the Women in Jazz Association in the Austin area. There’s also a Washington Women in Jazz Festival in D.C. that celebrated its third year this March and the Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival that’s been running for 18 years at the Kennedy Center. In the past, Yoko Miwa has been a featured performer at this wonderful festival.  In the other Washington there’s a Seattle Women in Jazz Festival in April, and in New York the nonprofit International Women in Jazz had a festival in April as well.

Why do women jazz musicians, in particular, need to be celebrated — other than the fact that there are so many wonderful woman jazz musicians, of course? Jazz takes talent, intellect, and gumption, things that women have always had, but historically have been discouraged from showing. Also, for most of the 19th century (when jazz began) and arguably some of the 20th, women who performed in public, whether that was music, theater, or dance, were regarded as looking for the wrong kind of attention. Even today, women are less represented in jazz than men.

From Ella Fitzgerald, Josephine Baker, and Billie Holiday on the vocal side to Lil Hardin and Mary Lou Williams on instruments, there have always been great women in jazz. Let’s take May 10 — and any other day you please — to celebrate the accomplishments of women jazz musicians past and present!

For those of you who missed it in 2011, here’s a video of Sheila Jordan introducing the Yoko Miwa trio’s tribute concert as a part of Women’s History Month.

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