Part Two: Women on the Syllabus

What did conservatoires say? Plus music, news, opportunities.

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Put Women on the Syllabus; What Happened Next

This article stands on its own but it provides a ‘part two’ to the previous newsletter.

Should there be more women on the syllabus?

During my seven years in the industry, countless musicians have told me that they learnt almost diddly squat about the achievements of women whilst studying at a conservatoire. Pairing that with this recent report on gender discrimination in the Jazz scene, I decided to instigate some conversations. I believe that change begins with education, so I went to the institutions at the top of the food chain; Jazz conservatoires.

First, I want to share some of the testimonials that graduates and students wrote in this questionnaire, which was sent out in the previous EZH newsletter. If you’re a music conservatoire graduate or student and haven’t filled it in, there’s still time. The conversation doesn’t end with this feature. Here’s the stand out stats:

Almost 60% said that music by female musicians or composers made up less than 10% of their syllabus.

46% of graduates estimated that one in ten masterclasses were lead by a female musician. 14% of graduates have only had male led masterclasses.

64% of graduates said that women made up less than 10% of their teaching faculty - two graduates had exclusively male teachers throughout their degree.

75% of graduates agree that music by female musicians should make up 50% of the syllabus.

I promised you in the last newsletter that I would ask UK conservatoires a series of questions, to open constructive conversations about gender representation on their syllabi. And I did - but not all of them reciprocated.

Some of the ten conservatoires that I approached were happy to hear from me, some forwarded me straight onto their publicists - and some are yet to acknowledge my emails. I’ve had candid discussions with Heads of Jazz at Trinity Laban, the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and the Royal Birmingham College of Music - and I’ve spoken to the amazing Black Lives in Music about our shared passions.

The research hasn’t been straightforward. I quickly discovered that what’s taught at conservatoires - and how it’s taught - can be difficult to measure or compare.

Hans Koller, Head of the Jazz department at Trinity Laban, explained that their students take the lead in selecting the repertoire that they learn. Whereas at Leeds Conservatoire - where the teaching style is more structured - curriculum leader Jamil Sheriff shares that 25-50% of the syllabus focuses on work by female performers or composers. It’s important to commend Leeds here: they were the only conservatoire to complete the survey, and confirmed that they were happy to receive recommendations on how to include more music by female musicians in their Jazz course.

My stand out conversation has been with Hans, whose alumni include several artists from the London Jazz scene; Cassie Kinoshi, Laura Jurd and Dee Byrne to name a few. Hans’ interest in fair representation appeared to be at the forefront of his concerns. All students need to practice being bandleaders at Trinity - something he argues is particularly important for female musicians.

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Steve Berry was appointed Head of Jazz and Improvisation at the Royal Northern College of Music two years ago - and is keen to make amendments to the course.

“The area where growth and change is needed concerns the matter of staffing classes and masterclasses representatively, an area where the music of jazz itself has not covered itself in glory”, says Steve. “Overcoming decades of misogynistic defaults is no easy, overnight thing. The music education world surrounding Jazz currently (and unavoidably) reflects the fruits of that long-time default but it is changing. I'm determined to be an agent for change”.

There’s been some conversations with a handful of conservatoires - I won’t say who - that left me feeling spoken down to or worse, fed lip service. They claimed to walk the walk but there were no footsteps to be found. I’m keeping an open channel with these educators.

Generally speaking, there’s been an unwillingness for conservatoires to respond to me ‘on paper’, opting for phone calls instead.

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Clara Serra-Lopez (below), describes a narrow lens of learning at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama:

“It was very white washed and furthermore taught from a very British middle class male perspective. No effort to connect the civil rights movement to Jazz was made… no effort to bring in female instrumentalists and composers and their stories into the syllabus. We were introduced to female singers and hardly [any] instrumentalists. The limitation for women of colour is even greater, the modern syllabus looked mainly at contemporary white musicians and a few white female singers and instrumentalists”.

A post shared by @clara_sl

Helena Kay, a recipient of the Peter Whittingham Jazz Award, also attended GSMD. “In moments of doubt, it's crucial for me to think about all the badass women out there playing jazz… it makes me feel as though I'm in the right place and that I can do it. Representation is so important”.

GSMD are yet to comment on gender representation in their syllabus.

A post shared by @_helenakay

An anonymous graduate of Leeds Conservatoire says, “I was barely introduced to any music written or performed by women. We looked at some of Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday's work, but beyond them, we didn't study any female instrumentalists at all”.

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A couple of Heads of Jazz departments told me (and I’m paraphrasing), that there isn’t enough significant work by women worth teaching; however, some cite the work of Maria Schneider, Carla Bley and Esperanza Spalding as being regularly drawn on in contemporary Jazz modules.

This is where it get’s uncomfortable. Aside from the occasional vocalist, female musicians have historically, had less visibility, and less opportunities. However, there’s no lack of virtuosic female instrumentalists:

I’m thinking about composer Alice Coltrane, Japanese pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi, flautist Bobbi Humphrey, Danish percussionist Marilyn Mazur, pianist Joanne Brackeen, arranger Melba Liston, the late great drummer Viola Smith, Mary Lou Willams. The below Twitter thread, highlighting female instrumentalists that deserve to be on the syllabus, is currently 128 comments deep.

One anonymous musician says, “It's clear that women and non-binary musicians don't get the same respect that male musicians get. People have assumed they are girlfriends or that they don’t understand how to use their equipment. I think part of that is the historic under-representation or outright discounting of female and female-identifying musicians both in academic literature and the general music industry”.

So the question stands, with history as context, what percentage of a Jazz syllabus should be the work of women? Many opted for a 50/50 split, including Elliot Galvin, who graduated from Trinity Laban. He explains:

“I think we need a broader definition of Jazz within educational establishments. The problem at the moment is that the music which is defined as being worth teaching is heavily male dominated and therefore excludes interesting female and more diverse contributors to the world of Jazz. We need to redefine how education establishments see Jazz. Opening up the curriculum to be more diverse and inclusive will be beneficial to everyone and on music as a whole”.

A prolific music journalist, who asked to stay anonymous, said: “My impression is that the "canon" still too easily dictates what's studied and also what's covered in a field that's lesser-known like Jazz. Opening up the field to be more inclusive of the population would make it far more accessible to listeners, too”.

An anonymous contributor who attended the Royal Academy of Music argues that “The syllabus should definitely be a 50/50 split. I think a formalised commitment to this - a bit like the Keychange 50:50 [initiative] at Cheltenham - would be good because the 'syllabus' for the Jazz courses at conservatoires seems quite changeable depending on individual teachers' choices”.

Faye Treacy, a comedian, presenter, and musician who also attended the Royal Academy of Music, opted for 25%. “I want it to be more obviously, but historically music has been dominated by men, therefore we need to learn about and champion the women before so we can inspire future generations”. She adds that “in 50 years, hopefully, it will be an honest 50/50 split”.

Over in the States, trumpeter Jaimie Branch (below) studied at the New England Conservatory of Music. Jaimie agrees that achieving a 50/50 gender balance across syllabi would be ideal, but the challenge is hard to meet. “For a long time women were suppressed or even not allowed to be musicians”, says Jaimie. “I think that professors and institutions can try harder and do better, especially when it comes to female faculty”.

A post shared by @jaimiebranch

Out of ten conservatoires, only one has filled in this questionnaire, which I sent out almost two weeks ago. The feedback has been that the answers are too complex to document on this form.

Whilst I’ve come to understand that the syllabi at various conservatoires can be malleable between students, it’s disappointing that the questions that could be answered easily, haven’t been. Every Head of Department should be able to share how many staff members or masterclass guests are female. However, I need to point out that a couple of the conversations I’ve had with conservatoires have been reassuring - there are one or two that are providing a positive example for other institutions to follow.

Let me be crystal clear; I’m not slamming conservatoires. The courses in the UK are some of the most highly esteemed in the world. They mentor and develop world class musicians year on year. But;

Wouldn’t it be refreshing for conservatoires to inspire their students with idols of varying genders? To not refer to Alice Coltrane in reference to her husband? To reveal music that a student won’t have heard - because it simply wasn’t better documented. To say that there isn’t an opportunity to study a better balance of artists is lazy and unthoughtful.

I’m looking at several conservatoire’s silences with optimism; a lack of clarification hopefully, means that a realisation has been made to aim for better.

I’ll keep repeating this point:

By not teaching students about the work of female musicians, we’re telling them that it’s acceptable to overlook them.

The graduates have spoken. You can contribute to the musician’s questionnaire, here.


New Music Radar

Check out our pick of fresh Jazz releases on Mixcloud.

Out now \\ London bassist Daniel Casimir has dropped new track Safe Pt1, which is nothing short of epic.

Out now \\ Vocalist and producer Gretchen Parlato has released her Brazilian inspired project, Flor.

Out now \\ Analog Africa have released a tantalising compilation: Edo Funk Explosion Vol. 1

19 March \\ STR4TA’s third single Vision 9 drops on Brownswood.

25 June \\ Hiatus Kaiyote have shared a release date for Mood Valiant - their first album in six years, and a single out now that features Brazilian legend Arthur Verocai.

25 June \\ Carlos Niño & Friends will drop More Energy Fields, Current.


News and notable

Submissions for the AIM Awards are now open! In 2020, Sarathy Korwar won best album. Details.

Jazz re:freshed Outernational took Camilla George, Noya Rao and others to SXSW last week - from Abbey Road. Read about it in Austin Chronicle.

BBC 6music are hosting new shows from Jamz Supanova and Blessed Madonna.

Chick Corea posthumously won Two Grammys.

Check out Jas Jayser on Women In Jazz' Uncovered series.

How to get a radio show; advice from Worldwide FM, Foundation FM and more.

China Moses spoke to women in the music industry for JazzFM Voices.

Jazzwise published Women In Jazz: The Artists You Need To Know

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Jobs and opportunities

Don’t forget to check out the previous newsletter - some listed opportunities might still be live

Somethin’ Else want a Radio Producer who lives and breathes black music for BBC 1xtra.

Know good radio? BBC Radio 1 are seeking an Assistant Commissioner.

This is a great opportunity: Spotify are hiring a Black Culture Editor for their podcasts, with remote working options.

Rolling Stone are hiring a Research Editor; Women, people of colour, and LGBTQ+ candidates are strongly encouraged to apply.

A UK Jazz trio are seeking a session drummer for a European TV performances.

A school in South London are looking for a DJ teacher, 1.5 days a week.

Savvy with Instagram? The London Contemporary School of Piano would like someone to manage their account, up to 20 hours a month.

Box Park want a Social Media and Content Manager.

In the North of England, Future Talent are seeking a Relationship Manager.

Sheffield Music Hub would like a Full Time Manager.

Charity Youth Music are hiring a Grants and Learning Officer.

The Royal Academy of Music are looking for a Head of Digital and Production.

The London Philharmonic Orchestra have various Admin roles up for grabs.

Want to get involved with Grow’s cultural events? The Hackney space is seeking a General Manager.

In Berlin, Ableton are adding a Copywriter to their team.


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Thank you, Tina x