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Party for one? Women in jazz are few and far between


If I had a nickel for every time someone asked me if I was a vocalist, I could actually pay for a year's worth of voice lessons. Self-fulfilling prophecy? Or backwards-thinking male-dominated industry at work? It's honestly probably both. Women are woefully absent from instrumental music, especially jazz, and even more shut out from the music writing scene. As the only female undergraduate in the USC Thornton School of Music Jazz Studies Department, I've had a first row seat to the show that is misogyny in the music industry for the last four years.

I have always had female role models in music. My piano teacher from age 4 to 18 received her doctorate in music and taught Harry Connick Jr. as a child, and all of my private instructors in my youth were female. But I was not immune to the reality of women being shut out of the "good old boys club" of jazz. In high school I was quite forcefully asked to wear a short dress and told to play my secondary instrument instead of my primary, so it would put me in front of the band instead of behind a piano. I bonded closely with the other girls in the band because we all fit in one room on every overnight band trip from 6th through 12th grade - our program had the most girls out of any across the region. Despite some of the treatment I received early in life, I still wanted to pursue a music degree. I was told that I wasn't cut out for it, but I was the only one of my graduating class to make it to USC's conservatory, one of the top in the nation. But my negative experiences were far from over.

Now I won't say that it was impossible to earn the respect of my peers. It was just that much harder. This is a well-documented phenomenon, you can even find it on Wikipedia:

According to Jessica Duchen, a music writer for London’s The Independent, women musicians are "...too often judged for their appearances, rather than their talent" and they face pressure "...to look sexy onstage and in photos."

I'm not here to complain, or bemoan the treatment I've received as a result of this incredible bias. But I do want to say this: in this so-called modern age, there are literal clubs of old men making decisions about the music industry, and as the profit margin shrinks for music outside of the top 40s, women are disproportionately shut out. Men young and old perpetuate this status quo, and it doesn't do them any favors. I have never understood trying to silence half of the community's creativity in favor of an old traditional viewpoint. Perhaps we all need a fresh perspective on the direction of the music industry, and women could provide it. It's time for a change.


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© 2019 Richelle Tanner

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