Saturday night was a wonderful evening, jamming in my seat while listening to a quartet, three of whom were women. I was at the Women of Jazz concert at the Sands casino.
Mimi Fox, a guitarist from the Bay Area, led these fine musicians – Cindy Browne on bass, Susan Pascal on vibes, and Jason Lewis on drums – to tight, cohesive breaks, while also delivering her virtuosic technique. With her eyes squinting and head bobbing, Fox entertained, playing some originals and her straight-ahead renditions.
As I sat in the half-filled ballroom, I began to wonder why I don’t see more female jazz musicians gracing stages. We’re very lucky to have such fine musicians living here in Reno. It goes back to the years when casinos had house bands that performed with all the big acts that made sure to play in The Biggest Little City. Many of those old-time musicians are part of the Reno Jazz Orchestra, while the big band also has been able to get professors and students from the University of Nevada, Reno’s fine music department. With all that talent, I’ve yet to see one female musician sitting amongst them.
So, where are the women?
I’m not the only one who’s wondering what’s going on. Vern Scarbrough, director of Reno Youth Jazz Orchestra, said he’s “quite surprised” with the sparseness of professional female jazz musicians. Luckily, about 10 of his 40 band members are females, a ratio he proudly says has remained pretty consistent. And several of his alumnae are pursuing college degrees in music. But Scarbrough says that’s not the norm. All you have to do is go to UNR’s Reno Jazz Festival and you’ll see the dearth of female musicians performing with high school bands.
I’m very happy to know that our local youth jazz orchestra has so many young ladies mastering their instruments and continuing to do so in college, but I think we missed an opportunity Saturday night to inspire more young women. Remember, I said the ballroom only was half filled. So why weren’t those empty seats filled with young musicians who would have had the chance to be stirred by watching women perform on stage? I’ll never forget when Christine Kelly, owner of Sundance Books and Music, bought tickets last year for 106 music students to hear Itzhak Perlman perform. That’s the kind of opportunity we need to be giving young people, especially females, with jazz.
I want to see more women shattering that jazzy glass ceiling!