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Artist Profiles

Joelle Leandre

By Published: March 15, 2008
"At a festival, you have maybe 150 guys and two women," she said. "It's hard, it's bizarre. I play with guys. I like to, I learn, but I could say "where are my sisters?? Men don't talk about it, but they are deep in competition—who will record, how many CDs do you make, who do you play with? I don't think the guys care where the women are. But I think something has to change. In history, artists—filmmakers, painters, composers—they?re mostly men. I think a woman like me with a bass will leave something, because we haven't had a podium. We don't have Beethoven or Wagner or Elvis or Monk."

If Leandre comes off as a little strident, that's because she, at times, is. But she's not a total cynic. She sees an egalitarian spirit in free improvised music (even if she rejects the term) that she says hasn't existed in the other arts.

"To be a woman, a lesbian, helped me maybe, I don't know," she said. "Women in art are seen as witches or crazy or homosexual. It's probably true, by the way. But improvisation is human, it's expression, there's no hierarchy, no gender. Free music? I contest this name. We are not free. Especially musicians. How can you be free when you have a position, the sound of your instrument, a memory?"

That is, for Leandre, the often debated line between jazz—a lineage that stretches back to Satchmo and Bird—and the spontaneous, if nebulous, arena of open improvisation.

"Never will I play the role of a bass in jazz because I am too much of an anarchist and the men do that," she said. "I create my way to be me. I feel more authentic if I play what I play than if I play like somebody. This is your classical music, jazz. I respect it, but it's not my tradition."

And for Leandre, that approach to playing her instrument is also a credo for living her life.

"I could say now with simplicity that I built my life by myself to meet people and fall in love," she said. "I think that's my life—to go to a person and say "Who are you?" Because I know who I am, I am so a bassist. Life is all this contradiction and tension and it's exactly like that when we play. To be alive and open and fragile every day—for me, life is that."

Selected Discography

Francois Houle/Joelle Leandre/Raymond Strid—9 Moments (Red Toucan, 2006)

Joelle Leandre—Concerto Grosso (Jazz Halo, 2005)

Joelle Leandre/India Cooke—Firedance (Red Toucan, 2004)

Joelle Leandre/Marilyn Crispell/Paul Lovens/Richard Teitelbaum, The Joelle Leandre Project (Leo, 2000)

Joelle Leandre, No Comment (Red Toucan, 1995)

Irene Schweizer/Maggie Nicols/George Lewis/Joelle Leandre/Gunter "Baby" Sommer—The Storming of the Winter Palace (Intakt, 1985)

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Download jazz mp3 “3rd Variation for Clarinet and Contrabass” by Joelle Leandre