New jazz mentorship program aims to boost careers of women and non-binary musicians —

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Next Jazz Legacy, a new national apprenticeship program for women and non-binary musicians, announced Wednesday the seven artists who will be a part of its inaugural class. The three-year program is chaired by three-time Grammy Award winner Terri Lyne Carrington and was created through a collaboration between New Music USA and the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice.

Next Jazz Legacy’s inaugural class covers a broad spectrum of music, from drums to trombone to vocalists. Each of the seven artists has confronted various challenges while working in the music industry, including sexism and socioeconomic prejudice.

On its website, Next Jazz Legacy notes that a study of data found in NPR’s 2019 Jazz Critics Poll revealed that only 16% of core band personnel are women, 58% of jazz albums have no female musicians, and only 7% of the critics contributing to the poll were women.

“Many young women and nonbinary musicians in college weren’t having a great experience,” Carrington said. “I had been teaching at [Berklee] college for about 11 years and I figured I hadn’t really done anything to help them [students] have a better experience. Somehow my eyes opened, my heart opened and my mind opened. I realized that if I wasn’t a part of the solution, I was a part of the problem.”

The selection committee for the apprenticeship included distinguished musicians such as Cassandra Wilson, Nicole Mitchell, Ambrose Akinmusire, Sean Jones and Miguel Zenón. The winners will receive a $10,000 grant, a one-year performance apprenticeship, online learning courses from the Berklee College of Music, plus a variety of promotional opportunities, from a podcast series to live showcases with national presenters.

Each awardee has also been paired for a yearlong, personalized apprenticeship with some of the most influential and innovative bandleaders in modern jazz, including Esperanza Spalding, Lizz Wright, Mary Halvorson, Tia Fuller and Chris Potter. Wayne Shorter and Bobby McFerrin have also joined the program as creative mentors.

Halvorson, for instance, will work with Kalia Vandever, a trombonist and composer from Brooklyn, New York. “She is someone who I have looked up to for a very long time in terms of her compositional approach and improvisational approach,” said Vandever. “I think it will be really exciting to work with her in a performance and workshop setting. I’ve never had a woman mentor before. All of my primary teachers have been male. I’m looking forward to working with her and experiencing her life as a woman and a professional musician.”

The other winners are Ivanna Cuesta, a drummer, composer and producer originally from the Dominican Republic; Lexi Hamner, a singer/songwriter, trombonist and multi-instrumentalist from Cincinnati; Keyanna Hutchinson, a guitarist and composer from Brooklyn; Alexis Lombre, a pianist from Chicago; Anastassiya Petrova, a pianist/organist from Almaty, Kazakhstan; and Susanna Risberg, a guitarist and composer from Gothenburg, Sweden.

“I’m most excited about the partnership giving me all the tools that I need to succeed,” said Lombre. “It instills confidence in me that the sky is truly the limit and what this program means is that I have everything I need to flourish. There’s no more excuses. There are no more barriers.”

Carrington, a renowned drummer and producer, graduated from Berklee College of Music in Boston in 1983, and became a professor there in 2007. She has toured with artists such as Dizzy Gillespie, Herbie Hancock, Shorter, Al Jarreau, Dianne Reeves and the Yellowjackets, and is the first woman to win a Grammy Award in the best jazz instrumental album category.

She started the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice in 2018, reflecting on the last decade of her career and thinking about what could have made her journey easier as a woman in the industry. It was through a series of later discussions on the subject between Carrington and Vanessa Reed, president and CEO of New Music USA, that the idea for Next Jazz Legacy became a reality.

In 2020, New Music USA began a program similar to Next Jazz Legacy for filmmaking called Reel Change, which aims to address the fact that most films are directed and produced by white men. A key component of the program is providing the layers of support, besides funding, that create a community of relationships that foster both personal and professional growth.

“Our core priorities are to increase resources, build a community, and increase advocacy and equity,” Reed said.

Alexis Davis is a senior multimedia journal journalism student from Prince George’s County, Md. She is a sports and culture contributor for The A&T Register, the campus newspaper at North Carolina A&T in Greensboro.



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