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Pernille Bevort: Cowboys and Girls

By Published: January 27, 2009
AAJ: You are obviously quite well established as a musician, as a composer within Denmark and within the region, but for a young female jazz musician starting out how difficult is it to get gigs in Denmark?

PB: Well, it is difficult for all jazz musicians at the moment. These are not good times. But what we often meet, that our male counterparts don't, are the kind of comments like: "Oh, you play like a man!" There is a habit, not because people are mean...

AAJ: It must annoy the hell out of you, no?

PB: Certainly. There was one concert, where we played with a big band, a very nice concert, and the pianist got a compliment from one of the listeners: "Wow, you play really well," and then this man from the audience continued to me, "Yeah, and I really liked your legs.' And then I got upset. (laughs) I mean, he would never have said that to a man. But that is what we have to deal with and we also have to deal with, OK, it's not because people are mean, it's because they are not used to seeing it, and they don't hear what they are saying, and they don't even reflect. Maybe he was just trying to be kind by telling me that I looked nice on stage, which is nice to know, but it would also be nice to know that he liked my playing.

AAJ: Primarily.

PB: (laughs) I think there is another thing, and it lives in both men and women actually, and that is that we are used to thinking that men of course can be very, very good instrumentalists, and be successful and have a high level, but they are not so used to thinking that females can be the same—and that goes for both men and women I'm afraid to say. So we have to look within ourselves also.

AAJ: What does IMPRA stand for?

PB: I thought you might be asking me that question, and I'm also wondering, I think it's just some kind of playing around with impro; doesn't it denote female gender when you end with 'a'?

AAJ: Yes, in Latin-based languages—that must be it then. I was interested to read on the site the obituary for Rosetta Reitz, who died in November; she was a very interesting woman who did a lot to preserve and promote the earliest blues and jazz recordings of women and she said that she hoped that one day there wouldn't be a need for record label specially for women, in other words that women would have parity with men. Is what IMPRA is doing not doing just that, putting women musicians into a category of their own?

PB: What I would like is not to put women into a category of their own but make people more conscious of these issues and this habit of thinking, and I think what a lot of us would like to do is to tell each other, yeah, it's great that we are here and there is a reason that we should continue working with music, because we have a lot of power and we have a lot of stories to tell.

You can never turn off your sex, I mean first of all you are a human being and then you are your sex, but you cannot walk around being completely neutral in life, that's impossible. We need to make people think about this and I would like to show young females that it is possible to play instruments at a high level and that it is possible to tell your stories, and to trust in and believe in themselves; that way we can maybe give each other some more power, because sometimes you maybe feel all by yourself and who fucking cares anyway? (laughs)

I play in a lot of orchestras where I'm the only female, or we are only two, but I don't walk around thinking I only want to play with females.

AAJ: No, sure. You play in quite a lot of different contexts, small and large ensembles, straight ahead and Latin—how much of that is out of financial necessity and how much if out of a desire to play in a wide variety of settings?

PB: (laughs) I try to see it as a whole; what I do makes me who I am as a musician. I play in the Ernie Wilkins Almost Big Band and I enjoy that very much. I also play in the Monday Night Big Band which is more swing-oriented music and in the trombone player's Erling Kroner's big band we play very bluesy stuff, very inspired by(bassist/composer) Charles Mingus
Charles Mingus
Charles Mingus
1922 - 1979
bass, acoustic
and we also play tango-inspired music. In my own group I express my own voice the way I have digested all those different things. I also play in a couple of big bands as a sub, and I do some theater gigs.

Of course, I need to do a lot of different things because of the economy but I also think of it as a lot of different ways to... how can I say, stay ready. (laughs) Do you know what I mean? To stay ready to play, to always develop this ability to sit in with different ensembles and to listen to what is going on and think what is my part and how do I do my best? All of it has to do with music.

Right now I'm doing a very interesting thing. This summer I invited Marcelo Nisinman, the bandoneon player—he's quite famous on his instrument, having played with Dino Saluzzi
Dino Saluzzi
Dino Saluzzi
—he comes from Buenos Aires, Argentina, and I met him in the big band with Erling Kroner. I invited him to play some concerts with my big group and at the jazz festival in Copenhagen, and that was really great fun, and we even wrote together.

He is coming to Copenhagen in March and we will co-write new material. His background is from tango but he is very modern; he studied composition in Switzerland and also Buenos Aires, so he has both tango and classical music and he has a free spirit—a bit crazy—(laughs) so he's a very special guy and a really, really good instrumentalist. I think it will be fun.

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