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Roxy Coss: Standing Out

Paul Rauch By

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AAJ: Justice in terms of gender equity has been easier in classical music because it's so institutionalized. They can conduct blind auditions. It is a matter of adjusting methodology. The Seattle Symphony went from 7% woman in 1970, to nearly 50% by 1980, exposing the injustice of the past, and the caliber of women musicians in the present. They even have the musicians remove their shoes, as to not tip off their gender. It's not so easy in jazz, a more social music that is not institutionalized professionally for the most part. It makes sense that we can make the most headway in the education community, school programs, workshops, JazzEd, community projects.

RC: It's like flipping the script. A problem we have now, especially with this President, is widespread thinking of white men thinking things are being taken from them. Men have told me that I just got a gig because I'm a woman, and I have to tell them that no, I got the gig despite the fact that I am a woman.

AAJ: I confess, I caused a bit of a ruckus one night at a local jam session, when a young man, a musician, made a remark about two women jazz musicians that I had recently reviewed and interviewed. His remark in essence stated that they only have attained their current successful status because they have 'pretty faces.' I was offended and let him know my feelings in no uncertain terms, unfortunate in that I briefly disturbed the music. As a father of daughters, and a grandfather of granddaughters, I really am at my wits end with this sort of flagrant bias. It has no place in our world, specifically in this case, in a music that in every other way is currently and historically socially progressive.

RC: I get that the most from peers and younger, it's frustrating. You want to think younger people are more progressive. I'm sure older people say those things too. If you've reached a certain amount of success in your playing, you know what it takes and you see the results. He's jealous of my success.

AAJ: That's very plain, yes.

RC: It's like privilege. He thinks that it's owed him. There's this amount of entitlement that I think a lot of men have, because their whole life they've been told that they deserve that. They don't understand what I, and all women have to go through is more than they've had to go through, to get where we are.

AAJ: Ingrid Jensen is someone I really admire, as a strong, top tier trumpet player. She's amazing and a great role model.

RC: And she's enough older that she really had to deal with stuff. There is not very many women her age doing it. She's one of the first pioneers. She was on the Rufus Reid gig with me, and we talked.

I have some mentorship from Anne Drummond. In that same time period when I was graduating, I was thinking I was going to quit. I had a lot of challenging things happening. I just thought, 'Why don't I just take a lesson with Ingrid?' She's a woman that's actually doing what I want to do. She was amazing. We had a great lesson, she hooked me up with Kate Miller the trumpet player, and she just explained to me that if I just keep playing, she promises everything will be allright. Just keep the instrument in my mouth at all times. Just the idea that there's no secret. I didn't get it until years later, that I started looking around at people that didn't quit. The people that were still on the scene that I was admiring, the people that were successful, who were older than me, the only trick is that they didn't quit. They just kept going, no matter what happened to them. Next day, keep going, back at it.

I think that connection, I don't know if it's because of the academic studying, but there is definitely a disconnect with me in a context with men, versus me going to Ingrid, where she can just talk to me. There's not this extra weird stuff. I imagine that's what most guys get with their mentorships. I've had a ton of male mentors, they're all great guys, they've all offered me a lot. There's just something weird there. To have that connection with Ingrid was so great.

After the gig, Ingrid gave me this big hug, because I had told here what it meant to me, that I was going to quit before I talked to her. She told me it was so amazing to sit behind me and watch me play, that I was her first successful mentorship. 'Just to know you were about to quit and now you're this rock star,' she told me. She was very emotional about it.

AAJ: So much has to change in the hearts and minds of men. Men need to call out other men who continue to deny women justice in all aspects of our society, in our communities. Jazz music can only be the instrument of true free expression that it alleges to be, if everyone is included. We must embrace change as a positive and liberating movement in this regard.

RC: One thing that stands out for me after meeting all these other women is we all have had a very similar experience. Almost everyone I have talked to have been sexually abused, harassed, or assaulted from male jazz mentors at some point. A lot of us have multiple instances of that. It can be anything from extremely overt like rape, to just very subtle ways of manipulating power over you.

A lot of us don't realize until we are older how that affected us. There's so much anxiety that gets created. We end up being the ones that stop ourselves in the end. The saddest part is, after you've been treated that way, you internalize it. When you're a kid, you don't know what's going on. It really takes the strongest of the strong to get through that, then learn what happened and reframe it. Realize what it did to you, then change yourself out of those patterns to become functional again.

There's so much abuse in the community, and it's encouraged. These men who have been successful touring expect that. When a woman comes into that environment as a musician, they expect to treat them like they treat women everywhere. It's misogyny, and abuse, but we're part of the community. It's institutionalized. What's happening now is a lot of people are coming forward in the media.


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