Claire Cross is making space for women in jazz

I thought of writing something about Claire Cross – maybe copy some parts of her Bio, mention the dozens of programs that she’s participating or is running herself, her work with various bands, her mastery of the bass, her go-to personality her spectacular work as a music director in a series of projects, her advocacy for women in jazz. But then I thought there’s no point. Because all these aspects of her are now celebrated at the Melbourne International Jazz Festival’s,latest addition, a women-focused leadership program called Tomorrow is my turn. So, instead of writing about it – and her – I thought best to ask this jazz community leader to explain it all.

So, Claire Cross, what is Tomorrow is My Turn?

“Tomorrow Is My Turn is a Melbourne Jazz Festival initiative with a significant education component. It offers the opportunityto work with schools and do workshops and encourage more young women to play music.

“That is something that I’m passionate about and it is an area that I’m working on already.

“Back in 2015 I started YoWo Music with Lena Douglas; it is a performance program for young women and gender non-conforming youths in high school.

“There are a lot of conversations around how women were – or more to the point weren’t – participating in the scene.

“There’s a big disparity between how many men and women are playing, especially instrumental jazz. The question has always been: why is this the case? One reason (that Lena identified) is that something is happening at high school. If you look at the school music programs, there are quite a lot of girls that start in primary and early high school, and then, for some reason, there’s a bit of a drop, they are not really following through high school instrumental programs and a lot of universities don’t get many women applying – particularly for the jazz courses.

“So we thought that providing a really inclusive and nurturing environment for young women to play music would be a good way to keep encouraging them to hopefully follow through and pursue careers in music and on a tertiary level.

“Tomorrow Is My Turn is doing something similar by providing a female role model who is going out and working with young people. When you see someone who looks like you and you can identify with, that has quite a strong impact.

“If you can’t see it, you can’t be it.

“For me it’s quite appealing; it is an opportunity to reach a wider group of people, togo to schools and do some workshops with students, talk to them, take a few musicians with me to play for them, get them engaged in playing music,get them active and do something a little bit out of the comfort zone and give them a sort of safe space to do it in, regardless of whether they have ever played jazz before.

“I hope that I can have a positive impact on young people.

“I hope that they can feel that there are people out there who can mentor them.I hope that potentially Tomorrow It’s My Turn can bring together communities and create a supportive environment within schools where boys and girls are supporting each other.

“I would love to see women feeling that there is a place for them; asafe space for them to play music without being harassed or sexually abused or anything like that; it can be hard to navigate as a woman in music;we have as much right to play music and do it in an environment that’s good for us.

“I think that we are making steps forward.

“There’s a great little community in Melbourne with lots of different people in different groups and there are a lot of men who do support women but they sometimes don’t know what to do about it. If I think of the work that I’ve done in the past few years, the majority of the opportunities and gigs I’ve been offered, have come to me from other women. One way to support women in the community that would be to offer them gigs in your band or play with a woman you’ve never played with.

“If we want to talk about merit and the tokenistic aspect, booking people because they are good, the thing is thatby giving people the chance to play, byplaying with new people, being challenged and building confidence, then the quality of our players across the community is going to improve too.

“There are other aspects to Tomorrow Is My Turn. For me, it is a great career development opportunity.I will be performing at the festival,I have put together a new ensemble with some people who I’ve never played with before and I will also use some of the students that participate in the workshops. So for me it is a chance to play with people who are mentors to me and also mentor others a little bit.I’m really happy and excited about it”

Claire Cross presents Tomorrow Is My Turn on Sunday 9 June, 2pm at Melba Spiegeltent