(This was supposed to be on my main blog, not my humor blog. Moving it now.)
It’s been seven years since I wrote the only blog I’ve ever had go viral. (Let’s not argue about the definition of “viral.” It was read by thousands of people on each inhabited continent, and I got comments from people who don’t know me or my friends or their friends. I’m calling it viral!) The blog was about how I went from being the lead trombone player in the California state honor high school jazz band to dropping out of jazz three years later before I finished my music degree. And it was about how I was going to start a jazz improv class for girls. It’s been seven eventful years to say the least, and I thought it was past time for an update.
As promised, I did start my jazz class in the summer of 2016. I had four sign-ups right away, and that soon turned to six. We talked about chord spelling and voice leading, we learned songs and played them along with the iRealPro app, and we listened to women jazz instrumentalists on YouTube. Some men, too. We played games like “What color was I thinking of while I soloed” and “What Marvel character was I thinking of while I soloed.” We laughed a lot. We were about to have our first woman president in the U.S., and I thought I would soon be changing the numbers in the all-state honor band and beyond. It was all happening!
The group didn’t grow bigger than that, and we were sorely disappointed about the president thing (understatement of the century) but I was proud of myself. Starting things is not in my nature. We loved our time together at Music To My Ears, the music store where most of the girls took private lessons on their instrument. I didn’t seem to be able to recruit beyond that.
I was also getting my own jazz chops back in shape after 20 years of almost all classical–not even gigs, just keeping-in-shape classical for teaching lessons. I had been mostly being a mom and not thinking about gigging. Then, totally coincidentally, in the beginning of 2017 a guy from my church asked me to play with his band. For the next two and a half years I had a blast with the jazz girls once a week and gigging with that band a couple times a month and soon a couple times a week. Five-piece soul/blues/jazz group. I was the only woman.
Even though I was the only woman, none of the men in the group caused me any problems. In fact, they made sure to tell everyone about jazz girls, including the times we were interviewed on a local radio show and on a cool podcast about local bands. I gushed about these guys. I loved the original music and I loved traipsing around the county finding venues from seedy bars to fancy wineries to rich-people yards. I sometimes hated my solos, but I felt like I was back where I was meant to be. I loved the unquenchable creative drive. I loved the guys themselves. Outside of my family, they were the people I saw the most.
If you read my 2016 blog, you may recall that when I quit college jazz so many years ago, the nail in the jazz coffin was something I couldn’t divulge because it involved very personal information about people other than me. Well here we go again, only this time I didn’t quit. I got a phone call after two and a half years of showing up on time and never having any complaints about my playing, and I was told not to show up for that night’s gig. And once again, I can’t tell the story because it involves personal information about someone else in the band. It would make a gripping novel, too. Alas… So all I will tell you is that, to a person, everyone I’ve told the details to has said, “They would not have kicked you out for that if you were a man.” Men and women alike tell me that. This was almost four years ago now and I still can’t wrap my head around it.
I was not nice in my text goodbyes to them. I was not nice on social media about them. But I did not tell the details of what happened much as I wanted to. Within weeks I was writing songs and looking for members to make up my own band. Even though I am not good at starting things. I’d had a taste of the music I wanted to be playing, and besides, I needed to channel my anger into action. I decided on an all woman band. Because I was SICK of being the only woman. It took me months to find kickass musicians (no one could think of a single woman in the county who played guitar or drums?) and I wanted to give up many times, but when I finally found everyone (I decided to have a token man and even wrote a funk feature for him called Token Man) they looked so amazing on our brand new Facebook page and I couldn’t wait to rehearse with them. One more step–the process every musician dreads–the synching of schedules. We finally started to come up with some dates that might work. It was March of 2020.
I know the pandemic affected men, too. I know it affected a lot of people more than it affected me. But [expletive deleted]. I’d had so much trouble getting over getting dumped by my band–so much trouble persevering when I wanted to give up on songwriting and finding band members, and now this?
Jazz girls shut down. Everything shut down. Members of my new band quit music. Other members moved away. I gave private lessons over Zoom, which was surreal, but I was thankful to not lose the income and thankful to see my students’ faces. No one was gigging. Easter 2020 I played “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” on my trombone on my balcony and an unknown neighbor yelled “Thank you!” I auditioned for and got accepted as the applied trombone teacher for my local junior college. I finally got vaccinated. I played an indoor gig and worried about germs the whole time. Signed up to play a musical that got shut down before it opened because Covid went around the cast during rehearsals.
Now here it is seven years after starting jazz girls and I don’t have the heart to put together another band and I don’t really feel like gigging. I have done a couple jam sessions and a couple pit shows of Cabaret, but I just don’t feel settled in my own skin. I sold my horn to a student and got a freebie small bore horn from an old friend just to give lessons on. Meanwhile every year since I wrote that blog about only one girl being in the 2016 honor band there has either been one or zero girls in that same honor band. Every year. I am not good at starting things, but…
So I reached out to the jazz director at Sonoma State University. Can I have a room for jazz girls? Yes! And I reached out to friends and a member of The Ace of Cups and an employee at Healdsburg Jazz. Can you spread the word? Yes!
And now I just need parents to know we’re here, and I need them to understand the situation. I feel like I’m talking to myself sometimes. Your concert band girl CAN be great at jazz. I can teach her! Your jazz band girl IS great at jazz, but she’s going to face extreme sexism when she goes to college and beyond, and this class will be a source of connection, reassurance, jazz theory, and extra practice time. Recently a man who was in my college jazz band with me apologized for the way women in the program were treated. That was nice, but I fear girls today have the same road ahead. Being treated like potential mates and not considered real musicians. Being dismissed. Being bullied. Being assaulted. Then being apologized to twenty-five years later when they’re a nurse or whatever career they switched to.
I am terrible at recruiting. I see women doing great things across the country, from Terri Lyne Carrington and her work with the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice to Lisa Linde and Jazzhers. These women somehow got big things going, and I don’t feel like I have what it takes no matter how much I want to. But…
Who else is going to do it?
Jazz Girls begins again in the fall of 2023, this time at the Green Music Center at Sonoma State. Wednesday nights from 7-8. Junior high and high school girls. Suggested donation of $10 per week, but no one will be turned away for lack of funds. Come and chill with other girls, geek out on jazz, and play solos at whatever level you’re at. Whether you only know your major scales or you’ve been reading chord changes for years. I’m terrible at recruiting, but maybe we can make it happen together.