For Women in Jazz, a Year of Reckoning and Recognition

For Women in Jazz, a Year of Reckoning and Recognition


The year began with a reminder of how much work remains to be done. In March, the pianist and blogger Ethan Iverson posted an interview with Robert Glasper, a prominent fusion pianist, in which Mr. Glasper said he understood what female listeners wanted out of jazz. “They don’t love a whole lot of soloing,” he said. “When you hit that one groove and stay there, it’s like musical clitoris. You’re there, you stay on that groove, and the women’s eyes close and they start to sway, going into a trance.” He didn’t seem to imagine that the simplest way to attract female listeners might be to put more women onstage.

The comments — and Mr. Iverson’s obstreperous initial defense of his decision to publish them on a blog that had never run an interview with a female musician — drew a sharp backlash, partly because these days a quorum of women in jazz fully expect to be heard.

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The cellist Tomeka Reid said that as she was getting involved with improvised music she had women role models: “I saw women leaders, women composers.”

Credit
Ryan Collerd for The New York Times

Perhaps the most startling debut albums in jazz this year were “Fly or Die,” by the trumpeter Jaimie Branch, and “Mannequins,” by the drummer Kate Gentile. Ms. Gentile plays original compositions that are at once grimy and resonant, tightly layered and charged with momentum. Ms. Branch uses extended technique and blustery abstraction to a dizzying effect.

A mentor to Ms. Branch, the flutist Nicole Mitchell, 50, had a banner year herself. The highlight was “Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds,” an album recorded with her Black Earth Ensemble, an eight-piece band playing percussion, strings and reeds from traditions across the globe. The suite bears the markings of communal expression, with a sound that’s grounded and raw.

The cellist Tomeka Reid, another acolyte of Ms. Mitchell’s, spent her year playing high-profile gigs with her own projects as well as with luminaries like Anthony Braxton and Roscoe Mitchell. She released an album with the saxophonist Nick Mazzarella and one with Hear in Now, a powerful trio of female string players.

“I really feel like I had a unique experience because I came up under Nicole and Dee Alexander,” Ms. Reid said. “When I was just getting into improvised music, I saw women leaders, women composers. I saw women putting projects together.”

In October, the Spanish-born pianist Marta Sánchez celebrated the release of a fine new album, “Danza Imposible,” with a performance at the Jazz Gallery, her quartet playing deft, loosely spooled originals and passing the melodies between instruments. Simona Premazzi also released a remarkable album this year, “Outspoken,” replete with tilting melodies and craftily idiosyncratic piano playing.

Even more than the piano, the tenor saxophone is an instrument whose major figures have nearly all been men. Yet you’re hard-pressed to find rising talents more exciting than Camille Thurman, whose sound is as commodious and strong as Hank Mobley’s, or Melissa Aldana, the winner of the famous Thelonious Monk competition. Closer to the stylistic fringe, the saxophonist María Grand, 25, released her debut EP, “Tetrawind,” an infectious bit of avant-funk.

Ms. Thurman almost didn’t pursue a career in music. At New York’s prestigious Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts, she endured sabotage from male classmates and a shrugging response from teachers. “A few of them really made it difficult for us females in the band,” she said of her classmates, remembering that some girls quit playing altogether. “It’s implemented at an early age, these concepts of what gender is and what you’re supposed to do.”

The most noteworthy piece of writing to come out of the Iverson-Glasper fiasco was a nearly 6,000-word blog post by the vibraphonist Sasha Berliner, a 19-year-old jazz student at the New School. In it she tells of being overlooked or underestimated by teachers — despite her formidable talent — and reveals that she was sexually harassed by a figure whom she relied upon for gigs in the small San Francisco scene.

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