Arts | Music

Women in Jazz

KMHD Jazz Radio | March 12, 2014 1:35 p.m. | Updated: March 23, 2014 9:23 p.m.

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Terri Lyne Carrington's Mosaic Project

Terri Lyne Carrington's Mosaic Project

The Mosaic Project

This year it’s time to celebrate the significant contributions that women have made to jazz music in recent years. The volume of female instrumentalists playing jazz has never been as high as it is today. In an era where the percentage of women are equalizing or surpassing men in previously dominated male fields, jazz is not to be spared.

It just so happens, the first saxophone solo given by a black American in an orchestra was by a woman. Her name was Elsie Hoffman, and  in 1889 she performed with the Will Marion Cook Orchestra in Washington D.C..

By the 1920s and 1930s, all-female vaudevillian-style jazz bands started playing in variety shows and picture houses. The Tin Pan Alley Chicago group, the Ingenues were multi-instrumentalists, their abilities spanning from violins to accordions to trombones.

The International Sweethearts of Rhythm

The International Sweethearts of Rhythm

With the rise of the big band era, female instrumentalists forged ahead rising to new levels in jazz.  With a new era, new bands emerged like The Harlem Playgirls and the International Sweethearts of Rhythm led by Anna Mae Winburn — the  first all-women’s integrated band in the United States.

Through the mid part of the century women began gaining more traction in jazz, but it wasn’t until twenty years after the Civil Rights movement did the rise of women in jazz steadily begin to increase.

The volume of women playing jazz music has reached the highest numbers in history. Where women of the past had mostly been confined to singing and playing the piano, we’re seeing more women blow horns, play drums, harp, violin, and every other instrument associated with jazz, than ever before.


Here’s a list of current female jazz instrumentalists we love, mostly under-40, to get you started:

Listen to the story below:

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