Feminist Jazz Journalism, Now! Part 2: A solution-based analysis

FJR founder, Jordannah Elizabeth’s March 2021 essay for Jazz Journalists Association.

I’ve previously posed several questions regarding the relevance and presence, or lack thereof, of the feminist voice and women’s lens in jazz criticism. Engaging in an introspective and theoretical discourse with the jazz community and within ourselves as writers is one of the most important activities one can do in order to create a framework for impactful and lasting change.

Nonetheless, it would be irresponsible to leave this conversation floating in a realm of thoughtful ideology, without offering some form of solution-based analysis that would assist in creating concrete opportunities for growth, inclusiveness and advancement. These proposed solutions are nothing more than building blocks for writers, editors, publishers, and thinkers to consider in formation of their own ideas and tactics to create more equality within the jazz criticism community.

Before going on, I have one more question to express: Is it the responsibility of male writers and gatekeepers to lead the change we all seem to agree is needed? Or should it be women writers who organize themselves to create the environment in which we want to work and operate?

I believe the answer is both.

Feminist organizing, as with any movement, takes experience and humane strategies. Not everyone has the background needed to bring marginalized people together to create change, but those that do should utilize the knowledge we have in our community-oriented toolboxes to support those who are willing to learn and contribute. Continue reading “Feminist Jazz Journalism, Now! Part 2: A solution-based analysis”

Feminist Jazz Journalism, Now!

 

FJR founder, Jordannah Elizabeth’s March 2021 essay for Jazz Journalists Association.

Feminism is a school of thought that vehemently fights for equality within the binary gendered society, along with intersections of race and LGTBQ communities, demanding that justice be served through the uplifting of women. Therefore: Is it a feminist act for a woman to simply attempt to express her voice in an acutely male-dominated jazz criticism community? Or is it only truly feminist when a woman embeds feminist theory into her jazz writing or chooses to solely write about women jazz musicians and composers?

With the overwhelming disparity in the number of women compared to men who grace the pages of traditional jazz publications and mainstream media, many questions yearn to be considered.

If there were more women writing about jazz, would a new collective tone arise over the status quo that male journalists have cultivated throughout the history of jazz criticism and documentation? Will the experience of navigating socio-political environments steeped in sexist cultural standards, deeply engrained societal pressures and emotionally fraught artistic landscapes offer virtually unexplored perceptions and observations that could potentially create a new and fresh voice in jazz journalism? Continue reading “Feminist Jazz Journalism, Now!”

Rachel Winder Finds ‘Freedom’ in the Midst of Struggle

FJR founder, Jordannah Elizabeth’s March 2021 feature for CapitalBop.

On a chilly, clear-skied February morning in Baltimore City, the young composer, multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Rachel Winder was holed up in the Moose House Recording Studio, delegating out musical tasks as she glided from the vocal booth to the engineering room. Standing over her recording engineer’s shoulder, she offered thoughts and suggestions for slight enhancements to her new single, “Freedom,” out Friday. Sharp and attentive, Winder listened closely while he filled out the low end to the track and added atmospheric elements to the vocals, like a billowing reverb and sensuously haunting echoes of delay.

Each room in the studio was inhabited by a handful of young Black musicians, all there to play on Winder’s new album. During breaks, she chatted with her social media manager, while awaiting the arrival of a videographer who would be gathering preliminary shots for the song’s music video. Her team was calm and in good spirits, and the energy in the studio felt communal and productive.

Known as Ray to friends and collaborators, Winder has a kind and patient bearing, yet she was clearly in command of the several cogs revolving around her, stewarding the process of musical manifestation with quiet confidence and decisiveness. “We make sounds out of what we are,” she said as she prepared to go into the booth to lay down vocal ornamentations. Continue reading “Rachel Winder Finds ‘Freedom’ in the Midst of Struggle”

Amirtha Kidambi & Lea Bertucci’s End of Softness

FJR founder, Jordannah Elizabeth’s March 2021 review for New York City Jazz Record’s Women’s History Month Issue.

The surreal, apocalyptic musical offering End of Softness is the second collaboration between vocalist Amirtha Kidambi and sound artist Lea Bertucci. The album is comprised of carefully woven musical shards from their debut album Phase Eclipse and a live performance the duo reworked and retexturized in order to create this new collection of darkly-themed songs.

End of Softness is an artistic illustration of the end of days and patriarchal-induced confusion and decimation erected and produced during Kidambi and Bertucci’s personal isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It can be assumed that the stark collaborative readjustment was a deeply embedded source of inspiration as the tracks are heavily coated with sounds of empowered desperation, resulting in a kind of freedom that can only be earned through perseverance and ingenuity during this time of global loss. Continue reading “Amirtha Kidambi & Lea Bertucci’s End of Softness”

Nubya Garcia’s Source

FJR founder, Jordannah Elizabeth’s November 2020 review for New York City Jazz Record.

British tenor saxophonist Nubya Garcia continues to emerge as a significant voice with her leader debut SOURCE. This sensuous collection is admirably played by Joe Armon-Jones (piano), Daniel Casimir (bass) and Sam Jones (drums), produced by Garcia and Kwes, the latter working with notable artists like Solange and Bobby Womack. This combination of musicians and producers is sonically compatible and gels well on an intuitive level as well as technically. Garcia is an imaginative storyteller, SOURCE a reflection of her swirling inner world of familial history, highs and lows of attaining well-earned prestige and personal struggles of grief while experiencing the world through an Afrodiasporic lineage and lens. Continue reading “Nubya Garcia’s Source”

Sevens: Alice Coltrane – Transfiguration (Live, 1976)

FJR founder, Jordannah Elizabeth’s 2013 review for Aquarium Drunkard.

It’s been noted that 1976’s “Transfiguration” is a culmination, and a sort of completion of the body of work Alice Coltrane had been building since 1967. The title track from the eponymous live album (not released until 1978) was purposely titled to mark the beginning of Coltrane’s spiritual based compositional phase where she strictly composed Hindu inspired chants and meditation music. Strong and entrancing, “Transfiguration” is perhaps most importantly a free jazz piece that contains absolutely no bells and whistles, and no Hare Krishna title or lyrics. It’s just Coltrane on piano and organ, Reggie Workman on bass and Roy Haynes on drums, giving the audience at UCLA in Los Angeles an opportunity to hear what Coltrane was naturally working with. Continue reading “Sevens: Alice Coltrane – Transfiguration (Live, 1976)”

Billie Holiday and the First Hundred Days

President Biden has made new promises to contain the COVID-19 pandemic and systemic racial divides which can undoubtedly result in releasing a new season of reassurance to the ailing and marginalized community in Harlem World and countless regions in American society, but there should be a level of patience and skepticism within our collective mind. Yes, an era of chaos, abuse, sabotage, and dishonesty has ended since the swearing-in of new power and Biden wants speaking honestly about the healing of our hearts and minds, but he can never truly understand the trauma of oppression and the terror that has been bestowed upon us as a people. Kamala Harris understands, but we must wait and see if she and the president can create solid policies that will withstand a possible entrance of a conservative administration that historically arrives after the reign of a Democrat president. Continue reading “Billie Holiday and the First Hundred Days”

Equal At Last? Women In Jazz, By The Numbers

Originally published on NPR Music. Authors: Lara Pellegrinelli, Shannon J. Effinger, Jordannah Elizabeth, Kira Grunenberg, Rachel Horn, Georgia Sebesky, and Natalie Weiner.

In the 2019 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll, five of the top 10 new releases were recordings led or co-led by women artists — a startling 50%. In fact, it is the largest number of projects led by women in the top 10 since the annual poll began 14 years ago, surpassing 2018, when women comprised a third of those rankings.

That would seem to be good news for a musical community that has been frustratingly slow to embrace women musicians. Women in jazz have traditionally been singers, a role that allows them to be dismissed as entertainers who are not fundamental to jazz as “serious” art. Few female instrumentalists — or, for that matter, composers, arrangers and bandleaders — have become part of the music’s story, one that stretches back to the late 19th century. Continue reading “Equal At Last? Women In Jazz, By The Numbers”

Billie Holiday’s complex life explored in two new films

FJR founder, Jordannah Elizabeth’s review for New York Amsterdam News.

For those curious about the tumultuous life of one of the greatest jazz singers of all time, Billie Holiday, 2021 offers new and fresh perspectives on the late vocalist.

“Billie” is a stark and moody documentary on Billie Holiday that explores her short time on this planet through tape cassette recordings of interviews with her closest friends, colleagues, lovers and family conducted by jazz critic and biographer, Linda Kuehl. The film intertwines Billie’s story with Kuehl’s, who mysteriously died in 1978 while attempting to write a more sympathetic and acutely accurate account of the singer’s life with the understanding that the dominant white male jazz critic lens lacked empathy for Lady Day. Kuehl worked laboriously on the book, many times at the expense of her mental health and safety. A number of the interviews were contentious and, to Linda’s memory and assumed chagrin, continued to paint Holiday as a victim. In many ways, Holiday was a victim, but the film, which should be viewed as a historical resource with a unique view of the singer, fails to truly depict Holiday’s true agency. She is spoken about in-depth by those who were in her inner and social circles, but it is uncertain if anyone truly knew Billie on a deeply intimate level. She is called a masochist and a psychopath by interviewees which denotes a lack of awareness of her emotional sensitivity and only scratches the surface of Holiday’s larger-than-life, wealthy and glamorous persona. Continue reading “Billie Holiday’s complex life explored in two new films”

Black Women Jazz Musicians Speak of Their Transitions During COVID-19

Stay-at-home orders have caused several months of shows to be canceled. No one knows if or when people will be able to gather again which doesn’t allow women in jazz an opportunity to plan for their future. “I do not expect things to go back to normal.  The life we were living is now over. We have to operate with a new understanding and connect to each other in an entirely different way,” Ebony continues.

Since the emergence of jazz music, women musicians have faced difficulties from both the world at large and within the culture. Misogynoir is a day-to-day experience for these women and because of this, they have to use their energy to create mindsets and philosophies to help them overcome the existence of sexist conflicts.  “I don’t try to focus too much on the “struggles”. Yes, there’s sexism, ageism, etc. I choose to remain positive and hopeful. Right now, we have to thank all the essential workers who are out here on the frontlines risking their lives every day,” says cellist and composer, Tomeka Reid.

If gone unchecked, the presence of the COVID-19 can widen the gender gap by draining the already limited resources women of color in jazz receive. Without their national and international tours, the ability to network and collaborate with like-minded musicians, there is a chance that more male musicians will emerge stronger by living off royalties from top-selling albums, for example. There are systems set up to ensure the success of male jazz musicians via better media exposure and promotions which push their musical products to the forefront. Continue reading “Black Women Jazz Musicians Speak of Their Transitions During COVID-19”