I didn’t come up with this title. I ‘stole’ it from musician and educator Andrew Bishop, who made this statement commenting on a facebook post of my newest friend (and new favourite jazz writer), Michelle Mercer. It is a phrase that best sums up and expresses the thoughts and feelings I’ve been having for quite sometime now, at least since I had the honour of featuring such luminaries as Roxy Coss and Shannon Barnett in this website.
Women are the future of jazz. I’ve been following the public debate on the experience of (most) women in jazz and I know how male-dominated the scene can be – and I know all about the undefeated stereotype of the macho jazzman; it’s not easy, and it is certainly not fair to have to give so many battles at the same time. But I’m pretty sure that, at least in the Australian Jazz community, women are winning battle after battle. I don’t think that there are other jazz communities, at the moment, in the world, with such a strong female presence, with such an impressive amount of talent that just cannot be contained.
It’s no secret that I’m new here. I came to the country three years ago and I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that, at the time, the only Australian Jazz musicians I had heard of were women: Hetty Kate, Andrea Keller and Linda Oh (of course, I thought she was American, so it doesn’t really count). During my first couple of years here, whenever I turned to music for inspiration, consolation and empowerment, it was the music of Gemma Farrell, Elly Hoyt, Angela Davis, Ingrid James and Chelsea Allen (alongside her partner in crime, ade ishs) that really sustained and nurtured me. In the years that followed, this list of incredible women has been constantly growing: Sorcha Albuquerque, Harriet Alcroft, Judy Bailey, Martha Baartz, Ashley Ballat, Rebecca Barnard, Nat Bartsch, Fem Belling, Kristin Berardi, Jackie Bornstein, Erica Bramham, Sophia Brous, Flora Carbo, Natalie Carolan, Helen Catanchin, Jenna Cave, Olivia Chindamo, Ann Craig, Miriam Crellin, Claire Cross, Georgie Darvidis, Monique DiMattina, Cheryl Durongpisitkul, Margie Lou Dyer, Sandy Evans, Nina Ferro, Arlene Fletcher, Ange Gadd, Dominique Garrard, Emma Gilmartin, Kimba Griffith, Alex Hahn, Zoe Hauptmann, Tina Harrod, Asha Henfry, Sonja Horbelt, Rae Howell, Lauren Irvin-Ray, Hannah James, Kelsey James, Justine Jones, Penny King, Ellen Kirkwood, Tamara Kuldin, Ellie Lamb, Djuna Lee, Marion Lustig, Sarah Maclaine, Frances Madden, Sarah McDonald, Sarah McKenzie, Chris McNulty, Julia Messenger, Selene Messinis, Clancye Milne, Holly Moore, Tamara Murphy, Michelle Nicole, Katie Noonan, Madeleine Novarina, Julie O’ Hara, Mel O’ Neill, EeShan Pang, Juliet Pang, Audrey Pawne, Kayleigh Pinkott, Francesca Prihasti, Heather Prowse, Louisa Rankin, Sevil Sabah, Jennifer Salisbury, Lisa Salvo, Kellie Santin, Gian Slater, Mallory Steele, Emma Stephenson, Kathrine Summers, Erica Tucceri, Gemma Turvey, Lisa Young – I’m sure that I’m forgetting someone, either because my memory fails me, or because I somehow haven’t come across their music yet, which is a good thing, it means that there’s a lot for me to discover, to find about, to learn.
One thing I’ve learned, while I was doing my homework, was that Australia’s first jazz band – literally trading as ‘Australia’s First Jazz Band’ was formed in Sydney in 1918 by Belle Sylvia. So this year, we’re not only celebrating the centennial of Australian jazz, but also 100 years of female leadership in Australian Jazz. Not a bad legacy for a scene.
Speaking of legacy, it was inspiring – to say the least – to see Diana Allen OAM being awarded the Order Of Australia Medal “For services to Jazz Music” this year. Because there’s more to a scene than the musicians. There are the schools, the venues, the festivals, the promoters – wonderful women have been involved in every part of the process: Lynette Irwin has been a shining example of leadership in jazz promotion; Jennifer Kerr and Melanie Pose have been the heart and soul of the Melbourne International Jazz Festival; Chelsea Wilson is doing wonders at Stonnington Jazz and Brunswick Street Festival (not to mention her great radio show on PBS FM); Melbourne’s two leading jazz clubs have women at the helm – Megan Evans at Bennetts and Liz Carnovale at the Paris Cat – and Dizzy’s is rejuvenated thanks to Niamh Mc Garry; Publicists – Prue Bassett, Sally Glass, Tracy Routledge, Di Rolle, Julie Cavanagh, Fiona Brook, Clare McGregor, Karen Conrad; yes, it’s their job, but the outcome is much more than that; writers, journalists and broadcasters; Andra Jackson, Jessica Nicholas, Loretta Barnard, Melanie Christodoulou, Kaye Blum (who did an excellent research on the history of Jazz in St Kilda) and Lauren Istvandity (who is currently researching the history of Jazz in Queensland). All part of a strong fabric. This website was founded by such an amazing, dedicated writer, Miriam Zolin, to whom I will forever be grateful. And of course, my arch-nemesis is also a woman, Joanne Kee. Speaking of online ventures, the single most important media platform to come out in our ecosystem is dedicated to the promotion of diversity in the jazz community. It’s All In Melbourne. Like the page. Support the initiative. Help it achieve its goals. This is the leadership we need.
I don’t know what the statistics say, but I don’t think there’s nowhere near this kind of engagement, involvement, representation and leadership in any other jazz community in the world. Not in Europe, nor in the US, nowhere. To my eyes, the Australian jazz community is already leading the way.
This means that a lot of work has been done. And there’s a lot to celebrate. But as it always happens, when you take a moment to celebrate achievements, to see how far you’ve gone, it’s also time to see how much further you can go. There is still a long way to go. But we’ll get there. It’s inevitable. Women are the future of jazz.