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JT Notes: Evan Haga Introduces the Sept. 2012 Issue

Women's issue issues + Anat Cohen, Cassandra Wilson & more

Cassandra Wilson
Mary Halvorson

Unless you’re a newcomer to our magazine, you probably know that in most months JT carries a specific instrument theme; one month that doesn’t is September, when the theme is a one-off. This time last year we wheeled out the Artist’s Choice issue; 12 months before that came our 40th anniversary book dedicated to the jazz happenings of 1970. In 2007, we entered the fall with an edition all about the intersections of jazz and film-you get the idea. These September issues are generally well received, and often incite more feedback and discussion than months centered on sax, drums, guitar, et al. I’m thinking in particular of September 2008’s New Jazz Visionaries concept. I can’t recall anyone accusing us of choosing a fundamentally corrupt theme, however. Until now.

In the weeks leading up to deadline, I wasn’t surprised to hear grousing about the idea of a “women’s issue”: It’s patronizing; it’s pandering; it’s no longer necessary. As one candid industry friend put it, “It’s like, yeah, women play jazz. So what?”

I’d like to believe that gender equality in jazz is at the point where magazines like this one (not to mention festivals like the Kennedy Center’s Mary Lou Williams event) are moot or worse, but it just isn’t so. The music is still largely a boys’ club, and I’m convinced that homing in on the contributions of jazz women-especially non-piano-playing instrumentalists-helps more than it hurts. I accepted those complaints as good signs, actually-as proof of progress in not only jazz as it exists on the bandstand, but in jazz journalism as well.

“Women have always been playing but the men haven’t written about it,” the trumpeter Laurie Frink told the New York Times in 1991, and after reading this issue’s piece on filmmaker Judy Chaikin’s The Girls in the Band, I have to agree. The film unfolds a history that is unfamiliar, if not secret, even to jazz buffs.

I wouldn’t argue the women featured in this issue are under-documented, though. Clarinetist and saxophonist Anat Cohen, vocalist Cassandra Wilson, violinist Jenny Scheinman and guitarist Mary Halvorson are all artists we’ve covered before more than once, and artists who’ve been extensively featured and reviewed by the jazz press at large. (If you’re thinking it took us a while to put the brilliant Cohen on our cover, that has more to do with us not having a clarinet issue than with any sort of gender prejudice.) They deserve their ink and airtime, absolutely, and are getting it thanks to a media community with fewer blind spots than it had in the past. We’ve come a long way, baby.

Originally Published