5 Ways to Include Women in Your Jazz Studies Curriculum – And Why You Should

The #MeToo Movement shined a light on sexism in many fields of study, “jazz” included. Now, with the immense public support for Black Lives Matter, discussions about racial justice and justice for people with intersectional marginalized identities are out in the open. Students from among the most elite conservatories have taken to social media to share their difficult and traumatic experiences in music education (see @nec_anonymous and @MSMSpeaksOut, among others).

Here five strategies for including more women in jazz studies curriculum. While the followings examples here are specific to women, these points are applicable to any group of people who are underrepresented in this field of study.

1. Hire women on your faculty and as guest artists/speakers

Support women jazz musicians by supporting their careers. There are ample incredible women who play every instrument, compose, understand music business, etc. Hire them, not just as adjuncts but as full-time faculty with a livable salary and benefits. By doing this, you are signaling to you female students that they can achieve this and deserve to be recognized as respected authorities on the music when they enter the professional world.

Bring female guest artists to your campus. Play her music with your school’s ensembles. Treat her with the respect you would any other guest artist rather than tokenizing her.

Include female guest lecturers in your classes. Remember, there are women experts in a variety of fields concerning jazz, not just “women issues.”

2. Use the works of women in your curriculum

For ensemble directors, include the works of women composers in your repertoire. Do not do this for just one “celebrate women concert” but all the time.

For classroom teachers, use reading materials about women and written by women. A few books to start with are Blues Legacies and Black Feminism, Morning Glory, and Madame Jazz. Play examples of music performed and/or written by women in your classes. If you’re not sure where to start, I’ve got you covered.

While it is not directly related to “jazz” or “popular” music, I want to give a shoutout to MusicTheoryExamplesByWomen.com!

3. Commit to lifelong learning

It’s okay to not know everything, but it’s important to continue learning. Decide on a commitment that is meaningful but practical for you. Maybe that looks like reading a book, listening to online lectures or panel discussions about women’s issues, or engaging with a local women in jazz organization.

Don’t be afraid to consult with your peers about resources they have found useful for continuing their education or for enhancing their classes.

Be transparent with your students about your learning. This could inspire some of them to learn more about the role of women in jazz and signal that this is something worth their attention. Don’t be afraid to ask your students about what they already know. Some of them might be very knowledgeable about how women have contributed to jazz or be aware of resources for female artists.

It is also important to recognize that many people have intersecting marginalized identities. For instance, your Black female students and white female students are going to likely have different lived experiences. Learn more about intersectional feminism.

4. Call out your peers – and yourself

When you hear someone say something inappropriate, call it out. This can be hard, especially if it is a close friend or someone in a position of power over you. But, if you choose to stay silent, you are signaling that hurtful language and actions are acceptable in this space. Find a way that you are most comfortable with to express yourself. This could be as simple as, “What you just said made me uncomfortable.” Here are some more ideas.

Be mindful of your own biases. Are you overly impressed when a female student plays well? Did you have lower expectations for her when she walked into the room? While these types of thoughts may be nearly subconscious, it is important to observe them and question them. Why did I think that way? Where did I learn to think that way? Are my thoughts based in facts? Then, seek more information (see #3).

5. If there is truly no way to include women in your curriculum, have a conversation with your students about why women are absent

I had a teacher who did this incredibly well, and I found the impact to be powerful.

I was taking an Intro to Western Classical Music class, a topic notoriously devoid of women and BIPOC. Toward the beginning of the course, perhaps even the first class, the teacher acknowledged that there were very few women in the curriculum. He explained how women were often denied a musical education, especially beyond childhood, and that the details of their lives were not preserved to the same degree as their male colleagues.

To me, this was so much better than saying nothing. This explained that there is injustice in this field of study and that the teacher knows this and is doing his best to include women in the curriculum when information is available.

Why this is important

Taking these steps are critical to addressing the ramifications of historical abuse of women in “jazz” and “popular music” that continues to this days from the smallest clubs to the most prestigious conservatories.

Representation matters. It shows women that they are valued and capable of achieving more. While this article is about representation in Hollywood films, the same logic applies. And the same logic – that not only is this the right thing to do, but is good for a school’s bottom line – applies, too. Many women want to attend a music school where they will be able to learn from women and interact with female peers and are finding ways to make their voices heard about this.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, including women in your curriculum is the right thing to do. This is not just from a moral standpoint but also from an academic one. If you are excluding women, you are inaccurately retelling the history of this music.

Side note: I just wrote an article about the role of women in Ragtime music. We have been part of this lineage all along.

I hope this list serves as a starting point for how to make jazz education more inclusive, mindful, and accurate.

How have you worked to include women in your jazz studies curriculum? Let me know in the comments.

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