by Sophie Potrykus
Within the past year, sexism in almost every industry has come to the forefront of many of America’s talking points. From the corporate world, well into every area of the arts, a movement has picked up speed, and women within the jazz community have stepped into 2018 unapologetically bold. While 2017 gave us a sad realization of just how much further we have to progress, the voices of a scene that has historically been a “boys’ club” has brought a new light and sense of hope to a younger generation.
This year is calling for reckoning and recognition within the jazz community. This past September, viewers watched as Esperanza Spalding recorded her album “Exposure” in a 77-hour straight recording session. We watched as she was in complete control of her session and, within a space that is typically male-dominated, she collaborated and remained unquestioned. From Esperanza giving us a full, unfiltered look into her creative process, to Renee Rosnes’s album, still in pre-release, that has already landed at the top of the jazz charts, and even branching to Berklee’s own Women in Jazz Collective, the community of female musicians is paving its own way into the industry. While jazz itself may always have a strong sense of past traditions, like every art form, it must grow and adapt with the social issues of each generation.
Representation is vital. It shapes how we see ourselves from a very young age, and it can ripple out for the rest of our lives. We have gone from a time where you would only see one or two women on a stage filled with men, to having conversations on inequality within the jazz community and having more female-lead and diverse groups are commanding stages. Younger generations see themselves in these musicians, and it will inspire their desire to create and grow, just as it has done for all musicians today.
To create a change, you must start small. On campus, Berklee’s own Women in Jazz Collective started as an idea, which has grown into a full movement. The main focus is on women supporting other women within the jazz community and creating a space where female musicians, and the people who support them, can be creative freely.
Vocalist and Secretary for The Women in Jazz Collective, Malwina Masternak, spoke of the challenges regarding the inequality in jazz and how the future looks for women in the genre. “We need to talk about it,” says Masternak, “it’s been taboo for too long. Sexism needs to be a talking point; you shouldn’t have to stand alone. Nothing is going to change immediately; it’s going to take time. It’s going to take a lot of work, but you can already see the change, even just right here on campus.”
Art has always been used as a catalyst for social change. It speaks to a certain part of human nature in everyone and, historically, will create a talking point that stretches to almost every corner of the earth. The role models for women in today’s jazz scene are more prominent than ever and are making waves with their groundbreaking new music and rhetoric in inequality. Music is an art form that should almost be considered sacred. The feeling of having to be the best in order to be respected by a group of men is a toxic thought process, but one that many women in the jazz community experience and share. The sense of respect within a room that where music is being created should be gender neutral; one that promotes creativity and taking risks, rather than restricting it. Women of all ages in the jazz community are breaking the mold, fostering their own ideas of what it means to be a modern-day jazz musician, and creating a movement for inclusion and respect of all people within the community.