Call me naive, but it's always a disappointment for me whenever I find out that artists can be just as prejudiced as the rest of us.
Take jazz. I love it, but the world of jazz is a male chauvinist pigsty. If you're a woman, it's almost impossible to find a decent job or decent bookings. A typical case is the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, led by trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. It has never had a full-time woman member since its founding in 1988.
It has never held auditions either. Marsalis asks the section leaders who they like and makes the choice himself. It's an old-boy network. And the same is true for the country's other big bands, including the Glenn Miller and Duke Ellington "ghost" bands: no women wanted.
Unless you're a vocalist, of course. "Chick singers" have always been able to find work, as long as they're pretty. The stories are legion about how hard it was for Ella Fitzgerald to get a job starting out because she was thought to be missing in the looks department.
But there are encouraging signs locally, thanks to five amazing musicians: pianist Susan Muscarella, founder and executive director of the Jazzschool in Berkeley, trumpeter Ellen Seeling and saxophonist Jean Fineberg, director and assistant director of the Montclair Women's Big Band; trombonist Sarah Cline, director of the award-winning Berkeley High Jazz Program; and bassist Ariane Cap, founder of Step Up Music in Vallejo.
They're all longtime friends and collaborators. Cline and Cap play in the Montclair Big Band, Seeling and Fineberg teach at the Jazzschool, and they all teach at the annual JazzGirls Day that Cline holds at Berkeley High and the annual Jazzschool Girls' Jazz and Blues Camp and the Women's Jazz and Blues Camp, both of which Fineberg and Seeling direct. Individually and together, they are empowering women and girls to play the music that I consider America's greatest cultural contribution to the world.
The Women's Jazz & Blues Camp is coming up March 24-28 at the Jazzschool, with an all-female faculty teaching jazz, blues, R&B, Latin and vocal combos, in addition to electives such as percussion, theory/improv, vocal workshops, private consultations and instrumental master classes.
If you've always harbored an interest in jazz but have been told that women aren't good enough to play it, you'll find out differently at this camp. To register, log on to jazzschool.org/womensreg or call 510-845-5373.
By the way, the Jazzschool isn't going to be called the Jazzschool anymore. It has just received accreditation by the National Schools of Music, which means it can now offer a four-year Bachelor of Music degree in Jazz Studies. To celebrate its new status, the school will now be known as the California Jazz Conservatory. Congratulations to Muscarella, who conceived, created and nurtured this school into what it is today.
And if you're game for a little political action, Seeling is organizing a protest rally at 5 p.m. March 22 at the San Francisco Jazz Center, 201 Franklin St. in San Francisco, where the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra is playing a four-day stint. She and her cohorts want Marsalis to hold blind auditions, with the musician behind a curtain so the judges can't determine the gender. Sounds reasonable to me. How about you?
Reach Martin Snapp at firstname.lastname@example.org.