As the music industry celebrates Black History Month, a new initiative dedicated to building a more inclusive jazz future is being announced today (Feb. 23). Next Jazz Legacy is a three-year national apprenticeship program for emerging women and non-binary musicians launched by New Music USA and the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice, supported by major funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Next Jazz Legacy is also revealing its first seven awardees (out of 86 applicants) and the leading jazz artists they’re teamed with for year-long performance apprenticeships. They are:
- Ivanna Cuesta (drums; apprenticing with Esperanza Spalding),
- Lexi Hamner (voice/trombone; Tia Fuller),
- Keyanna Hutchinson (guitar; Lizz Wright),
- Alexis Lombre (piano; Marcus Miller),
- Anastassiya Petrova (piano/organ; Chris Potter),
- Loke Risberg (guitar; Linda May Han Oh)
- Kalia Vandever (trombone; Mary Halvorson)
Signing on as creative mentors for this inaugural group are genre stars Wayne Shorter, Bobby McFerrin, Georgia Anne Muldrow, Brandon Ross, Bill Stewart, Kris Davis and Jen Shyu.
The program’s offerings also include business mentorships and a $10,000 grant for each apprentice to use as an investment in further developing their careers. Embracing the principles of gender and racial justice, the program’s initial three-year run is being guided by an advisory board whose members include artists and representatives from NPR, radio station WBGO, Jazz at Lincoln Center, The Kennedy Center and New York Winter Jazz Festival.
New Music USA president/CEO Vanessa Reed said in a statement, “This lineup and the high demand for our call demonstrate the sheer talent of the next generation in jazz which is poised, with the right kind of help, to move forward to the next level of their careers.”
Echoing Reed’s sentiments, NEA Jazz Master Terri Lyne Carrington — a drummer and Next Jazz Legacy’s artistic director and founder of the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice — further outlines the program’s necessity and goals in the following op-ed for Billboard.
“We not only have to face the facts that misogyny and sexism are still very much a part of the music industry,” says Carrington. “We have to change the systems and patterns that have remained oppressive in order for the music to fully flourish and match how humanity is evolving.”
What would jazz sound like if there was gender balance among the creators of the music?
This has been a question I’ve been pondering deeply over the last five years, realizing that all of the standards I held myself to were essentially created by men. I never questioned the reasons for that or if it was in alignment with my values or not. Instead, I diligently tried to play like (and be like) one of the guys, not perceiving that “jazz futurism” cannot be achieved without gender equity and transformation in areas such as wage parity, education and access. But the music has so much more potential than has been fulfilled.
The lack of gender diversity — whether women or non-binary musicians — leaves me curious. I wonder what I would have sounded like if there was an aesthetic embedded in the music attributed to women that was valued. I wonder if I would have played differently without trying to sound like the men that I idolized and knew to be great; not being aware of great women drummers to study as well. I’ve now made that curiosity a big part of my life’s journey. I had blinders on like so many of my colleagues and predecessors.
But once I fully opened my eyes to this issue, it was like opening Pandora’s box: the problem could no longer be contained. I had a multitude of emotions to contend with — and anger was one of them. I not only survived, I thrived in this art form. However, I’ve now met far too many women that have not had my experience. And no, it is not because they don’t work hard or don’t have talent. We not only have to face the facts that misogyny and sexism are still very much a part of the music industry, we have to change the systems and patterns that have remained oppressive in order for the music to fully flourish and match how humanity is evolving.
When I talk about jazz and gender, many people’s response is they “just didn’t notice.” On the surface, that sounds incredibly oblivious. Yet I didn’t entirely notice myself because inequity has been presented as the norm. So now we’re ardently questioning why it has felt normal for so many of us to own an album collection (or digital files) that included very few or no women instrumentalists. The ingrained narrative has been that men play the music and women sing it.
The Next Jazz Legacy (NJL) initiative is a part of the growing collective of efforts addressing and striving to change that narrative. We would like to set new standards for ourselves and the jazz community, realizing that there is much work to be done for proper gender diversity to exist. More opportunities for women and non-binary musicians must be created in order for them to become part of the fabric of the genre. Gender segregation in jazz performance must be denormalized for the music to further develop.
As artistic director of NJL, I wanted our initiative to focus on artists within the first 10 years of their careers whom we felt would benefit the most from our program. There is no way to learn the art form without being onstage with people that are better than you and have the experience to make you rise to your fullest potential. We will assist by creating apprenticeships with band leaders of any gender, as well as creative and business mentorships. It’s an effort to help bridge the gap for women and non-binary artists who need support and endorsement to reach the next level.
We had 86 applicants this first year, a stunning turnout that even surprised me. While we were only able to choose seven, this demand in our first year proves that women musicians are out there pursuing careers in jazz. We also have to be cognizant of the fact that gender equity has to exist at all stages of artistic development from novice players to side-persons to our most celebrated artists and improvisors — all of whom contribute meaningfully to the art form.
My hope is that people will contend that we can no longer accept things as they’ve been – whether in regard to race, gender, the environment or any other area of marginalization. Our very existence and the advancement of humanity depend on us all doing better.