Jazzlines, the Birmingham promoters, have recently launched a new initiative to try to right the gender imbalance among jazz musicians. Women in Jazz is part of Jazzlines’ educational work and it’s a three-year project aimed at helping young women aged between 16 and 25 to pursue careers in jazz. And hurrah for that! (There is more about their project here.)
That announcement was much on my mind as I was standing in the upper room at the Hare and Hounds in Kings Heath last Thursday in between sets by Gonimoblast and Polar Bear. It was a Jazzlines gig, as it happens. Now I’m not going to question the fact that the nine musicians on stage that evening were all men – they all fully deserved to be there and there is not a quota system operating so far as jazz music goes. Most jazz musicians are men – fact. That’s the point of the Women in Jazz initiative.
But as they were moving stuff around on the stage and I couldn’t see anyone I knew I had a few moments to look around me. Well, anyone who thinks there might not be an audience for jazz in the 21st century, would certainly have had their view confounded. It was rammed to the gunnels, as I believe the expression is.
There was also a healthy range of ages. There have been a few gigs over the past years where I have looked around and it’s like looking into a composite mirror. As a scenario for a horror film, it might work. Balding Greybeards anyone? So far so good for the Polar Bear gig, though. Of course the BGs were there, but so were the full heads of richly coloured hair, and if we hadn’t all been jammed together I could no doubt have spotted a decent number of skinny-jeaned legs as well.
However. It was dark, I admit, and my brief survey was in no means scientific, but a reasonable guess would have put the male to female ratio in the room at about 9:1. No surprise there, you might say, and I would agree. But you see that’s where this Women in Jazz initiative is already doing its work: it’s got me questioning the status quo.
So, what I’m suggesting is that Women in Jazz shouldn’t just be about getting more women playing jazz; it should be about getting more women listening to jazz too, and going to jazz gigs.
Now I understand that the monthly Hare and Hound sessions that Jazzlines puts on – they used to be called Jazz Club and were at the Rainbow when the organisation was called Birmingham Jazz – are about appealing to a younger audience with more cutting-edge bands, and they do this very well. But you would think therefore that there would be a healthier gender balance at them as well. I haven’t been to many but I’m not sure that’s the case.
Now I’m both the wrong gender and the wrong age to suggest why this is. And if you are reading this you are probably equally disqualified. I suspect that seeing a group of thejazzbreakfast’s regular readers all in one room would be like watching Balding Greybeards 2.
But nevertheless, I would love to hear your views. There must be a few women who read this blog… and it has been known for men to have good ideas – occasionally. Whoever you are, please offer your answers to this question: How can we attract more women to become part of the jazz audience?
Comment below, please. I’d be most grateful.