Jazz knows no boundaries (mostly)

Here is a blog post about #International Jazz Day which was this week. The headline and accompanying narrative that “jazz has no boundaries” caught my eye. The history of jazz indisputably was founded on many boundaries, and in the early music the musicians and audiences were segregated. I’m not a historian but that jazz was founded that way needs to be recognised when we think about the music that we love. Google “jazz knows no boundaries” then you’ll find pages and pages of items telling us just that. But really?

Jazz Day








Looking back through the various hashtag timelines it seemed clear to me that even in 2018 it doesn’t cross all boundaries – not gender.

I’ve been playing for over 30 years. I can’t tell you the name of a single female trumpet or trombone player. I never studied music so know my education is lacking, but even as a regular player, few names spring to mind. In all my jazz playing days I’ve never experienced another female musician in the band (apart from singers). Today in my more informal jazz jam circles, there certainly are a few more which is awesome.

How many female jazz musicians can you name who aren’t singers?

I’m struggling apart from some of the early piano players like Winifred Atwell, and the inspirational band leader of the all female band in the 1940’s, Ivy Benson.

The Wikipedia page on “Women in Jazz” lists 20 instrumentalists.

The Wikipedia page on “Women in Jazz” lists 20 instrumentalists.

Part of the challenge we have is in providing an accurate and unbiased account of females in jazz history in the first place.

I had a Tweet in response from someone who seems a really nice man which helped point out to me what might have been limiting me all these years. Someone else thought I was talking about jizz. I genuinely hope the next generation of musicians is having a different experience, but I’m not sure as other replies mentioned misogyny and shameful attitudes even in young male players today. So sad.

Aside from the blatant inequality of perhaps not being offered a gig in the first place due to being a woman, attitudes could be quite subtle and some male players would comment on my appearance (and those who know me know how little I give a *stuff* about that). Comments like “you need large lungs to play the saxophone” were making an obvious reference. Thick skin and rapid retorts were called for (nicely honed from a career in science I might add).

There is more subtlety that I see around me even today – particularly when I lived in a nearby city, but I must add not at all in my new-found jazz and music circles where I live now. Those guitarists who can only play in E loudly (you might know the ones I mean) would provide me with entire gigs often where I was left without a solo. It was a good reflection of their personalities I used to think.

So I do think #jazz has a problem, although I’d say I’ve never been professional and on balance would say I’ve had an amazing experience playing the most wonderful music on the best musical instrument in the world. I love jam sessions now where I can pick and chose which lovely folk I wish to play with. But sadly it is just like any other work environment, you will always meet a few pieces of detritus along the way.

But more females please. And if you are male and in a band, or your sister / daughter / niece plays in a band, just ask how they are finding it. And let’s create a better account of awesome females in jazz.

If you share some awesome jazz lady instrumentalist names on Twitter I will personally try to research them all and update Wikipedia. (Hopefully one of my Wikimedia pals will help me learn how to do this)!!!!!


Sax Keilworth


Day Three with Vince Giordano

Day Three Grooves by Vince Giordano and his Night Hawks

Day Three of George Gershwin week. I saw these guys at the Newport Jazz Festival in 2012 and they blew me away. Their glorious sound is partly due to the fact they play all authentic 1920’s and 1930’s instruments, and probably are the only band today in the world where you can hear the types of sounds that George would have heard himself.

This means revisiting “I Got Rhythm”, but I think it is certainly worth it.


Vince Giordano, Newport JF 2012, Photo by Viv

Vince isn’t just an amazing band arranger, but he sings and plays three of the bass instruments. He has a bass saxophone, a sousaphone and a double bass somehow all fixed on a springy metal cage so he can really leap about between them, sometimes during one song.


The Night Hawks, Newport JF 2012. Photo by Viv

You might spot the beautiful subdued lustre of the saxophones, and slightly different bore sizes that you would get today. That goes to create the lovely warm sound, not like the giant barking sounds you get from instruments today.


Day Two and Happy B’day John Coltrane

Crazy Time for Libran Musical Geniuses

Day Two of George Gershwin week which is me celebrating George’s (and my) birthday on 26th September. Today we also say happy birthday to John Coltrane.

Yesterday we started off with “I Got Rhythm” which was from the Gershwin musical “Crazy Girl”. This made a stage star of Ginger Rogers overnight, and also featured Ethel Merman on stage, and later Julie Garland featured in the movie of the same name. We stick with “Crazy Girl” and today’s tune is Coltrane playing “But Not for Me” which also came from the musical. I’m not quite sure what he is doing with the beautiful and poignant tune, but hey, who is going to argue.

“They’re writing songs of love, but not for me,
A lucky star’s above, but not for me”.




It Is George Gershwin Week!

Well I say so.

Why?  Because ever since I was young he was my favourite composer. His songs had magical harmonies. His brother Ira wrote most of his song lyrics of course which were also superb. Years and years later I found out we shared the same birthday – which is this week on the 26th September.

Of course George, like other great American songwriters notably Irvin Berlin were Eastern European immigrants. Imagine the impact that making that journey and then being immersed in American city life must have made. I think you can hear it all the way through George’s music.

The song for today!

Combining George of course and another musical phenomenon Stephan Grappelli. 10 years younger than George – and living to a grand old 99 years of age, I remember seeing Stephan when he was so old he had to sit down and play the violin. This was at the Sheffield Concert Hall around 1990. (He must have been in his 90’s!!!) He was also a fine jazz pianist.

Here it is – “Someone to Watch Over You” followed by the epic “I Got Rhythm”. 

I love “I Got Rhythm” and how easily you can transform into “The Muppet Theme”! It is the one signature tune I play at every jazz gig, and the most memorable performance was at my mate Robert’s funeral – a great jazz drummer – and he would definitely have approved at our loud rendition in the church at his funeral.

God bless you Robert, and all the other jazzers who have made my life and are no longer around.


Stan’s Shimmy in Honour of Newport Jazz

DS106 Not-really-an-assignment

Those clever folks at DS106 are putting sounds to their animated gifs now. And aside from that  I can hardly believe that one year ago today I was at the Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island. An absolute dream and mind blowing experience, and endless list of great jazz names.

In celebration!

In celebration of the fact, and also to celebrate one of the most fantastic saxophone players of all time – Stan Getz – here is Stan in a delicious cardigan doing a delicious shimmy at the start of “The Dolphin”.

[Method – video was extracted into MPEG Streamclip and trimmed. PNG Images put into Flash. Groovy music by Barry Manilow trimmed in Garageband and imported into Flash. OK. OK. I know that I can’t really put animated gifs to music, but maybe one day).



Newport Jazz Festival 2012

 Dr John, Newport Jazz 2012. Photo by me!

For more photos, go to my Picassa gallery.