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Valaida: A Novel by Candace Allen

Some cried racism when Dave Douglas based an album on the works of Mary Lou Williams and won more accolades for it than she had seen in her whole lifetime. Not surprisingly, any discussion of sexism was far more muted. Jazz has very successfully naturalized its image as a boys’ club, black and white, despite Williams, Melba Liston, Betty Carter, Sheila Jordan, Carla Bley and countless other innovative jazz people who happen to be female.

Many of these women were documented in Sally Placksin’s groundbreaking 1982 study, Jazzwomen, and one of the most interesting biographies out there is about multi-instrumentalist, singer and dancer Valaida Snow. Circumstances kept Snow singing and hoofing–far more acceptable trades for a woman. Her first love was trumpet, audiences had dubbed her “Little Louis” (as in Armstrong) and, as critic Jeff Aldam noted in Snow’s obituary, her trumpet playing possessed “a most unfeminine vibrato.”

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