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Jane Ira Bloom: Ballad Vistas

Franz A. Matzner By

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AAJ: Is it also breathing new life into the music by pushing audiences back to live performance? After all, you can't download that kind of experience.

JIB: Maybe so. Maybe that is part of the thought process.

AAJ: If they also get a really unique experience through these multimedia type projects, maybe that is a really healthy thing for the music.

JIB: I don't think there is a recording alive that gives you the same chill of feeling as the vibrations you experience from pushing air molecules in a room. It's physical. It's visceral. We try to capture it when we record, but there's really no comparison.

Diversity in Jazz

AAJ: Let's switch gears a little. The last time we spoke was after the Thelonious Monk competition at which you were a judge. It was also the first time a female was awarded first prize in the instrumental competition. At the time you mentioned that you were quite pleased to pass the saxophone torch on to a younger woman. Do you see that moment as particularly significant for women and the saxophone?

JIB: I don't particularly sanction competition as the height of artistry, but it is a wonderful organization and a very visible place for a woman to succeed in. In addition to going through the competition itself, the publicity and the opportunities that come your way from that whole experience are wonderful—for any artist.

AAJ: There have to be these moments to advance the cycle, right? Other young female players seeing a woman receiving those awards and capturing accolades is inspiring.

JIB: It's visibility. It certainly can't hurt. A lot of people, when you ask about their daughters playing saxophone, they cite Lisa Simpson as their kid's role model. Hey, animation! And a baritone sax at that (laughs).

AAJ: I've never thought about that. That is probably pretty important considering how pervasive the show is.

JIB: For a young girl, it is.

AAJ: Have things changed significantly for women in jazz over the course of your career?

JIB: Of course. I've been teaching at the New School for sixteen years and a number of very talented women have passed my way. I think the exciting thing to see is that it's a generation of women who are very comfortable with themselves. Confident in being instrumentalists and in being women. That is absolutely where they are at. It's marvelous to see. Things are not exactly where they should be, that's for sure. It's still pretty Neanderthal out there, but at least it's progressing.

AAJ: There is far more diversity now in jazz, with more women but also more women playing a greater variety of instruments...

JIB: That is absolutely right.

AAJ: There are now several festivals dedicated to women in jazz. There have been major articles. There seems to be a real focus on women in jazz. Perhaps because we are approaching a shifting point. What always nags at me, though, is at what point does that very focus become problematic in the sense that it's reinforcing a sense of difference where there shouldn't be?

JIB: There is one part of the equation that people miss which I'm starting to pick up from being around my students. They are redefining self. Including even whether to use jazz as an identifying label. They are using the skills learned from having trained in the jazz tradition, but are integrating them into lots of different musical areas. They are choosing to make their jazz influence become part of a greater hybrid musical vision that doesn't live and breathe in the same place as it did in the 1940s, 50s, 60s. It's morphing. As it should.

AAJ: That raises another element to me. If finding your voice in jazz is about sounding like yourself, defining your individual voice, how does gender play into that? Because even now at club's sometimes I hear people say—as a compliment to a female player—you can't even tell she's a woman.

JIB: I heard that stuff so many years ago.

AAJ: So can you gender sound?

JIB: I don't know. I don't know the answer to that question. I just know how great it is to be a woman playing the music. If I'm in the same lineage as a Billie Holiday, I'll take some of that! (laughs). There are plenty of male musicians who would love to have some of what she had. (Laughs).

There is no answer to this question. Just be comfortable with yourself, whatever your identity is.

On the Horizon

AAJ: Before we finish up, what is on the horizon for you?

JIB: I don't record as frequently as most. It usually takes me a couple years to get a good idea! However, I can tell you about some projects I have coming up.

I plan to bring the ballads quartet back to Kitano in New York in May 2014.

I also continue to do these very interesting projects, usually two a year, with either Mark Dresser or conductor/composer Sarah Weaver having to do with telematic performance. Improvisers from all over the globe play live in real time... using this wonderful technology that comes pretty close to playing simultaneously. I've been pursing this for the last few years and really enjoy it very much.

When you think about the concept of playing live with people that are all the way across the globe—listening to them through speakers and seeing them on a video screen—it's uncanny.

AAJ: The only word I can come up with is futuristic.

JIB: It is. At first I thought I wouldn't like it because I'm used to physical proximity. The interesting thing I learned having done a few of these projects...is that once the improvisers get the electronic gear hooked up right so we are really playing in real time with one another, you find that you [extend] out to the other musicians even stronger than if they were standing next to you because you are trying so hard to reach them—even when they are half way across the globe. It's a very interesting phenomena.

Photo Credit
Johnny Moreno
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