Jazzwomen features 21 female jazz musicians talking about themselves and their music: Marian McPartland’s tours during World War II and her subsequent life in jazz, how players like Regina Carter got by during the lean years and why Maria Schneider’s upbringing in a backwater burg in Minnesota adds insight to our perception of the artist who came later.
The authors also get a gold star for emphasizing instrumentalists, which are still underrepresented in most band chairs, and the give-and-take of the Q&As is a format that I often prefer to reading analysis because we get the info straight from the horse’s mouth. This is particularly poignant during the chapter on Teri Thornton: The three interviews spaced over several years are a historical godsend that enables us to ride the peaks and valleys of her life and career up until she loses her battle with cancer.
But there are some issues that make this book tough sledding - each chapter has only one photo, which paired with some fairly dense typeset means that the book is like reading a textbook. And there’s also no sense of urgency in making the book timely: The interviews were conducted between 1995 and 2000, so we end up reading about current artists locked in time. Of course, in another five years the book will be more dated, but it will also be more of a time capsule for the jazz scene in the late-’90s. Nevertheless, Jazzwomen serves as a way for jazz fans to fill the gaps in our knowledge, of which there are too many regarding female players.