By Toto, Christian
Insight on the News , Vol. 17, No. 22
The Kennedy Center celebrates the contribution of women to jazz every yap with an annual festival, but women still have a tough time getting recognized in a very male world.
Ken Burns made a common mistake when creating his Jazz documentary series, according to maestro Billy Taylor. The lauded documentary mostly ignored the women who helped forge the art form -- a misstep Taylor would know not to make. For the last six years, Taylor has served as the overseer of the Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington. The annual program, held this year in May, invites a wealth of female musicians for three days of unbridled musical celebration, from jazz seminars to jam sessions.
"I'm very proud of the fact that we're giving credit to people who have been overlooked for far too long," says Taylor, who created the program to right a musical wrong -- that is, to give female jazz players their due.
The effort is taking root in the hippest of all jazz hot spots, New York, where female jazz musicians are starting their own festivals and networks. Still, female jazz players, from composers to saxophonists, labor in obscurity. Taylor likes to quiz music fans on their top five jazz performers. These informal lists, he says, never include women. What's more, many fans have trouble naming just one, yet alone five, "top" female players. "It's a problem of exposure" Taylor says with a sigh.
Take singer and saxophonist Vi Redd, age 72, who won this year's Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Award. …