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Book Review

Jazzwomen: Conversations With Twenty-One Musicians


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Jazzwomen: Conversations With Twenty-One Musicians
Wayne Enstice and Janis Stockhouse
Indiana University Press

Women have been active in jazz since its earliest days, but men have been remained the dominant figures throughout its history. While some performers such as Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald managed to achieve legendary status comparable to their male counterparts, many others have not received the recognition they deserve. With the publication of Jazzwomen , however, Wayne Enstice and Janis Stockhouse allow a few more women to step into the spotlight. Hopefully this is an indication of changing times.

Enstice and Stockhouse provide insightful and entertaining conversations with twenty-one jazz performers, taken from interviews made between 1995 and 2000. Jazzwomen profiles musicians ranging in scope from well-established artists such as Abbey Lincoln and Marian McPartland to younger talent such as Terri Lyne Carrington and Ingrid Jensen. Each entry features a brief introduction, leading into interviews that manage to captivate the reader from the very beginning. The authors never fail to ask pertinent questions that draw out interesting responses. The candid discussions included here not only reveal aspects of the musician in question but provide an interesting cultural overview as well. Throughout the book, these artists display a resilience and tenacity that only results from a genuine desire they have for music.

Many of the musicians featured here have faced their share of challenges. Frequently they have had to put up with myopic attitudes from many they encounter. One major obstacle comes from gender. When a woman plays jazz, it often becomes an issue. As saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom puts it, "anyone who told you it isn't has a few more years to live." She captures the essence of the problem in this interview. "It's a matter of covert discrimination, it's not spoken. That's what's so insidious about it. It's the phone calls you don't get." Some of the artists here have had to endure a great deal of sexist behavior throughout their careers. Pianist Marilyn Crispell explains how a reviewer once wanted her to go out with him after one of her concerts. When she turned him down he reacted by writing a vicious review of the performance, in spite of the fact that she had received a standing ovation.

Discrimination based on gender, however, has not been the only problem facing these musicians. In many cases, race also figured into the equation. Trumpeter Clora Bryant, for example, discusses being fired from a television program during the 1950s, simply because she was African American. While it's unfortunate that such factors enter into the picture, the women featured here show how to overcome such difficulties. Cassandra Wilson points out a good example of this power in her interview. "I have run into sexism, racism, all kinds of isms, and it just doesn't really affect my life."

Jazzwomen , however, doesn't solely focus on the challenges women in jazz encounter. The authors also manage to show how much pleasure there is in playing and performing. In practically all of the conversations, the musicians show an obvious enthusiasm for their music. There's also a good deal of humor incorporated here as well. Fortunately, readers get an opportunity to experience the pleasure. The Diana Krall interview alone is enough to lift anyone's spirits.

Enstice and Stockhouse have provided a service to the music world with Jazzwomen. This substantial collection offers plenty of informative and entertaining material. It also comes with a sampler CD, featuring performances by many of the artists interviewed. This book truly deserves all the recognition it can get. Anyone interested in this book is definitely in for a treat.

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