I used to tell my teenage son, "You don't have to look for racism; it will find you."
Now here I am, opening up my project to explore all musical women (instead of black women exclusively), and what stares back at me? Racism.
I went through the new critics poll of Downbeat and Jazz Iz magazines. Although there are many more women being recognized as excellent musicians than in years past, the majority of them are white. Of course there are those sisters who are so badass that they absolutely cannot be overlooked, among them Nicole Mitchell, Tomeka Reid, Akua Dixon, Matana Roberts, Esperanza Spalding and Terri Lyne Carrington. And more black vocalists receive accolades than do instrumentalists. But jazz was created by black people. How do we still end up with the short end of the stick?
A few possible answers:
- Most of the jazz critics are white males
- The music industry, i.e. labels, distributors, producers, is dominated by white males. Oh, right, just about everything in America is also controlled by them
- .Music programs have disappeared from many public school systems
- Black youth have been drawn mostly to hip hop, without understanding its connection to jazz
- Black female instrumentalists are not highly visible, therefore not seen as role models for successful career options
- In order for our stories to be told, we have to tell them
Those of us who have not been, and may never be, anointed by the jazz establishment, must continue to do what we've been doing all along and more - create our own opportunities; teach and encourage our youth; work cooperatively for the betterment of all, and remember why we make music in the first place.
Live the Nguzo Saba every day!!