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JazzBulletin   -   Thursday August 15 2019 to Saturday August 31 2019

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Women in jazz a three-part article by Benjamin Goron, published Thursday May 3rd, Thursday May 10th and Thursday May 17th, 2018.

Lisanne Tremblay 150x150.jpg Women in jazz, part 1 : International Jazz Day 2018Creating a space for women in jazz.

L’Unesco organises the International Jazz Day, now in it's 7th year, to promote the virtues of jazz as an educational tool, a tool for peace, unity and dialogue and reinforced cooperation in between the cultures. The United Nations website states that jazz : creates opportunities for mutual understanding, tolerance and promote gender equality. That last point drew my attention as that equality is not quite there yet. The situation of women in jazz is a pressing issue in today's jazz world. How do you explain the fact that the only Québec concert listed on the International Jazz Day website, Place aux Jazzwomen, organised by Divertissement Mercier and the Maison de la culture Côte-des-Neiges, has to be re-scheduled because of the absence of usual partners and ticket sales ? With the International Jazz Day in mind I wanted to talk to many of the jazzwomen to discuss the situation of women in today's jazz scene.

A lack of consideration in many ways.

The history of jazz has a selective memory. The Mary Lou Williams, Lovie Austin, Lil Hardin Armstrong, Valaida Snow or even Dorothy Fields have been forgotten in the collective memory created by men. Only a few singers were spared. The current scene tends to bring a new balance, but there's still a lot of work and changes to be done, as explained by violinist and composer Lisanne Tremblay (picture) : "The lack of consideration for the presence of women is systemic, and today it shows itself in a subtle way, by things not being said and the absence of the rights actions, so it's to hard to pinpoint". Guitarist Christine Tassan has sometimes been exposed to that situation in gypsy jazz, where women are still rare. "At first we hadn't thought of it like that, but when we decided to add a fourth person, we wanted to stay in the spirit of a women's group ; it became something policital". Christine Tassan et les Imposteures is the first group of women to play at the famous Festival Django-Reinhardt in Samois-sur-Seine back in 2014. With four musicians from the classical and traditional world, this group of "Imposteures" revisits Django's music by making bridges in between gypsy jazz and french song and their project Entre Félix et Django won the 2017 Opus for the jazz album of the year. "With gypsy jazz, you learn by playing with others in jams. I often see that women don't dare as much but whatever level you're at, you've got to go and play, you've got to dive in."

Benjamin Goron, the jazz gig of the week

rachel therrien 150x150.jpgWomen in jazz, part 2 : Being brave, one of the cornerstones of jazz.

Being brave, moving forward, taking risks, that's the challenge that was facing a few years ago violinist Lisanne Tremblay and trumpeter Rachel Therrien (picture), two young Québec musicians. Today, they share their lives in between New York and Montréal, as well as touring all around the globe. Lisanne Tremblay has succeeded in the world of jazz as as violinist improviser and female composer. Throughout her path, she's counted on a determining figure, composer Christine Jensen, her teacher and mentor. And as far as the violin that stands out in the realm of jazz, it's become a force and a sought-after sound by many groups and musicians. Lisanne is currently finishing the writing of a new project on the theme of self-transformation, a testimony to a new sound aesthetic that's happened connecting on the New York music scene where the barrier of genres tends to dissipate.

Trumpeter and composer Rachel Therrien has observed the same evoking the contrast in between the highly masculine jazz world of Cuba, where she's studied, and the New York scene, much broader, where you're regarded for your music more than your image or sex. A few years ago, Rachel got a hold of her courage and confidence and took the risk of moving on to New York. "After all, even if it doesn't work out, it's ok because the way getting there is just as interesting as the result." That boldness, she's crystallised it with her last project Why Don’t You Try ; why not try to lead her own project, have her image on an album cover, highlighting her different capacities as a woman, trumpeter, composer and leader? A successful gamble for the Rimouski native who answered my questions on the eve of a Hambourg Castle concert, who was on a European tour on until May 4th, 2018.

The unique situation of singers : in between image and reality.

Contrary to instrumentalists, female singers can easily identify themselves to singers because there are many female singers. Which doesn't mean they aren't subject to prejudice or certain attitudes that confine them to their sole role of interpreter.  Of portuguese origin, Suzi Silva has studied the fado of Lisbon, a type of fado from the street associated with people of humble origins, and sung as much by men than by women. She's managed to make her own the power and vocal flexibility of female singers, as well as the intonation and emotion of male singers. In 2014, recently arrived from Portugal, she went to study at the UQAM jazz program "with the intention of learning basics and tools to make her music, be autonomous and have a trajectory similar to the other musicians". With her project fad’AZZ recently awarded at the International Portuguese Music Awards (IPMA), she bridges the gap in between fado and jazz by adding to the harmonic structure of this portuguese tradition progressions and colors that come from jazz.

Benjamin Goron, the jazz gig of the week

Annie Poulain 150x150.jpgWomen in Jazz, part 3 : A wind of change : towards a more equal jazz ?

For musician & singer Annie Poulain, even with a solid jazz education from Laval University as well as the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff, England, she encountered similar problems : "I had to prove that I could compose, arrange, write nice charts to be taken seriously. I didn't want to be just a singer, I wanted to prove that I was also a musician." Annie recently released Dix pianos une voix, a collection of songs in duo where she's a composer, author, arranger, and of course, singer. So the reality of singers is quite different from the myths of the past, that of a generalised hypersexualisation or simplification. In jazz, they are mostly accomplished artists and creators with the same background as the other musicians, such as Sonia Johnson, Sienna Dahlen, or Mireille Boily.

"One of the ways to eradicate the problem is to have more and more women that are models in today's society in all domains". For Lisanne Tremblay, the world of jazz is no exception. The leading figures of the current scene will be the models of tomorrow's artists, something that rejoices the female musicians we spoke with. To tranform jazz into something more balanced and break the frontier of genres, there's an huge task of rebalancing yet to be done, essentially aiming the promotion of women in the domain. First of all, a fairer restitution of the collective memory such as the 2011 documentary The Girls In The Band, which brings to light the major contributions of women in jazz since the 1930s : then, the promotion of female models to confer a better mix for the image of jazz, awakening the consciences to this natural and obvious character of this mix and of the man-woman equality in jazz. Generally speaking, there needs to be a balance in between the tarnished image of the woman with too much impact and the artistic and aesthetic quality of the musical product often minimized, so the female artist can use with no shame a face and a polished image on a album cover or favour the creative aspect over the image without losing the public's interest.

This wind of change is highlighted by events such as the International Jazz Day in Montreal which has to be re-scheduled. Better luck in the Fall, to participate in this change of direction in the history of jazz that will allow tomorrow's artists, men and women, to open their hearts and minds to each other, to their differences, and to consider this is something inspiring, different from the past. Jazz was shaped thanks to mixes, interbreeding and cross-breeding, it's now time to learn to speak it's feminine language.

Benjamin Goron, the jazz gig of the week

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