Reflections on women in jazz for International Women’s Day
As part of IMC’s Ban Bam festival celebrating female artists in 2017, we spoke to four of the performers, some of the outstanding musicians in Ireland, about being women in the music world and the gender imbalance in jazz.
On International Women’s Day, we’re reflecting on their words, which are still powerfully thought-provoking.
Playing jazz, I think, traditionally requires the masculine side of a person. You have to penetrate. It seems as if it goes against the nature of femininity. But a lot of that is due to conditioning and the limitations created by it over the generations. Now the problem is becoming more visible, although it's a long and winding road to go, we are at the first step for the healthier balance and freedom. In the process of this, I think lots of emotions will come out. There will be anger and sadness too, and while all this is happening, we have to be open, and men and women need to listen to each other compassionately. We all have both male and female sides in us. I believe in internal process of each person, communication, and education.
Cora Venus Lunny
Maybe I’ll ask a question: where can someone get a job as a jazz musician where they are offered maternity or paternity leave? (Cue peals of uncomfortable laughter and changes of subject). But seriously, wouldn’t that be something?! I surmise, though can’t be sure, that many women might be opting for more secure and parenting-friendly careers than jazz, or other, music performance early on in life. This is clearly an incredibly complex, controversial and thorny issue which is a reflection of our societal and cultural problems and imbalances, I don’t think it’s in any way special to music or jazz, it’s more like music is the canary in the coalmine. There is no point looking for solutions without first seeking causes, and there is no way of talking seriously about it without probably insulting someone or their values, which I am loath to do, but I will try. Our society is sick and, while many of us are working hard to heal it, the sickness is chronic, systemic and worsening. Commodification of women, men, children, art, beauty and nature has been thorough and is today accepted and normal. I imagine that to change this mindset would require massive educational reform, intense reforestation, a much more liberal set of laws, and probably Universal Basic Income. A lot of us will have to be very strong to keep the fires of wildness alight, and it is this flame which will allow those of us who need to, to create the art we were put here to make.
I see the gender imbalance changing and improving, albeit quite slowly. One quintet I work with is actually majority female, which is a most welcome first for me in my career. I think that in order for things to change in a significant way we need to see more equal recognition of female artists in the media, and to have more women in prominent positions throughout the industry, not only as composers and performers. Ideally, we will have a world where young women have strong, successful female role models in any area that may interest them, and feel free to pursue their interest without fear of discrimination—in any field, not just in music. I think this change has to happen across the board, in all areas of life.
I think that firstly, the issue has to be recognised by society. I think that people needs to realize that women that are not “ there” are their mothers, sister, girlfriends… and everybody should have equal rights to create and perform. At the end of the day, we are talking about music not using a JCB . Nevertheless, if forementioned women would like to drive a JCB, they should have been given equal opportunity to do so - equality for everybody!