New York City, NY — by Isabella Armus
This story was originally published on New York University’s Washington Square News.
Even in its infancy, jazz was not a genre that stuck to the status quo. Developed by Black Americans in the early 20th century, jazz was marked by its amorphousness, as musicians riffed on an amalgam of influences to collaborate live with fellow band members. In short, jazz presented a sonic anomaly: It created new precedents for American music and performance. Now, nearly a century after the genre’s inception, student-run organization Key of She asks: Why should jazz’s rebellion stop when it comes to gender?
Founded in 2012 by saxophonist Olivia Hughart — who is currently a Steinhardt junior — in Philadelphia when she was just 12 years old, Key of She is a nonprofit organization that encourages and supports gender equity in jazz through the curation of free digital resources, live events and communities of female musicians.
“It was definitely something that I saw was needed,” Hughart said. “I would just go to big jazz festivals and be like, ‘Wow, that band only has two girls in it. That’s so lame! Where are all the girls?’”
Hughart’s impassioned frustration speaks to a wider pattern in the jazz community. Though jazz is a medium that’s inherently collaborative, historically, the genre has largely excluded players who aren’t cisgender males.
From elementary school teachers pushing young girls toward stereotypically feminine high-voiced instruments, to jazz studies professors relegating “women in jazz” to a single lecture, and even collegiate jazz programs overwhelmingly comprising men, the lack of women in jazz is an accepted cultural standard.
Emily Davies, a bassist and NYU jazz studies graduate student, is a frequent participant in Key of She’s digital events. She also noted this marked exclusion of female musicians from her own jazz education.
“You hear a lot about the singers: your Ella Fitzgeralds, your Billie Holidays,” Davies said. “But you don’t hear so much about the women who played the side instruments, and there’s a whole wealth of history there.”
Read the rest of the story at Washington Square News.