Celebrating Canadian women in jazz

Featured image for jazz story shows a guitar

For over a century, jazz music has evolved, passing through several distinct phases of development while introducing the world to notable names like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman and Miles Davis.  

And while there was no shortage of talented female jazz vocalists throughout time such as Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Sarah “Sassy” Vaughan, jazz has long been recognized as a male-dominated field.  

Raising awareness about the challenges faced by professional female musicians in the field of jazz, the Department of Music will present Celebrating Canadian Women in Jazz: A Virtual Roundtable featuring Allison Au, Tara Davidson and Amanda Tosoff

On Thursday, March 10 from 9 to 11 a.m., event facilitator and School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design Assistant Professor Noam Lemish will moderate the panel discussion recognizing gender inequalities in jazz, embedded biases and gendered expectations, as well as the culture of the jazz music industry. The event is also an opportunity to celebrate the successes of these female musicians.  

Celebrating Canadian Women in Jazz event poster

“Traditionally, jazz has been male-dominated, going back to its earliest days. Then, and for many decades since, women were often marginalized or sidelined, and their contributions not recognized in the historical accounts told by men,” says Lemish. “Amazing women have played and excelled at the music, but their story, presence and excellence have not been part of the history of the genre. Though for the last few decades some scholars and activists have been working to address this historic discrimination there continue to be biases in the jazz community that make it difficult at times for women to get ahead or to enjoy the same equal opportunities for their careers afforded men.” 

The award-winning Canadian jazz artists participating in the roundtable discussion will talk about their journey in the industry, play music from their latest recordings and give attendees a glimpse into their careers while also addressing gender justice within the music genre. The presentations will be followed by a question-and-answer period.  

“For me, as an educator, I am concerned with creating an inclusive learning environment, a community at the university level where women and non-binary students feel welcome, included and equal participants in everything we do. Every one of us needs to be proactive in ensuring that the environment we create for our students is one that highlights this issue so that students are aware of the biases that exist. In doing so, we want to support and empower them to be agents of change.”  

Lemish adds there are many talented female musicians to celebrate, and society has a responsibility to go beyond what is presented to music listeners by the “traditional male gatekeepers of the industry.” He mentions society has a responsibility to invest in making things right for the future, be critical thinkers and raise awareness about the communities and the people underrepresented in their industry.  

“It is important for all our students to see role models for success in the field… Most jazz students in our program are young men and we do have some women as well, but it is important regardless of gender to not constantly see men as the role models. These three Canadian artists offer the potential to see what lies ahead for each student if they apply themselves to their craft, are supported and provided opportunities.” 

The topic of the roundtable is a conversation Lemish and his students have been exploring in their class discussions for the past few weeks. The timing of the event also aligns with International Women’s Day (March 8) its #BreakTheBias campaign theme. While the movement calls for a shared responsibility to break the bias across communities, workplaces and educational institutions, Lemish notes the creation of the event follows the announcement and celebration of this year’s Oscar Peterson Jazz Artist-in-Residence. 

Exploring female artists and their role in shaping jazz culture at home and abroad, York University’s Department of Music in the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design named award-winning jazz trumpeter Ingrid Jensen one of two musicians featured as part of 2021-22 Oscar Peterson Jazz Artist-in-Residence.  

Jensen has been hailed as one of the most gifted trumpeters of her generation. After graduating from Berklee College of Music in 1989, she went on to record three highly acclaimed CDs for the ENJA record label, soon becoming one of the most in-demand trumpet players on the global jazz scene. During her residency at York from March 7 to 9, Jensen will deliver masterclasses, workshops and seminars for vocalists and instrumentalists. Two of the sessions taking place are open to the public. Registration is required. 

To register for the Celebrating Canadian Women in Jazz event, click here. To join an online session with Jensen, click here.