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Eight at a time - The unstoppable rise of the female jazz musician

For what seems like forever, the imbalance of male musicians to female musicians in music has been the norm, at least in public view. Of course, behind the scenes, female musicians were every bit as good as the men, they just were not afforded the same opportunities. In few genres was this truer than in jazz music. Female musicians were decorative, many having to do ‘time’ in the singing chorus before they were ‘allowed’ to take their rightful place in the section their instrument warranted. Even then, they had to play second fiddle (or horn) to male performers who may or may not have been better players than them – it was never an issue, men were, it was presumed, the leaders. It took a few ballsy women to stand up to the men, even start their own bands and demand equality in terms of respect.

However, things have changed. Even in the five years since I first wrote about the role of female jazz musicians in my book ‘Women In Jazz: The Women, The Legends and Their Fight’ (8th House), there has been progress. Much of this has been because of movements and innovations including the F-list, which lists female musicians, their genre, instrument and availability, Women in Jazz groups in various locations including London, Canterbury, Ireland, the US and Europe, designed to encourage and support female musicians, and many festivals and genres have discovered the multiple benefits of increasing the number of women on their rosters (a more diverse audience, more families, more females at performances, more tickets sold etc).

There have been strong women at the forefront of the female presence and many of these – Terri Lynn Carrington, Jane Bunnett, Jane Ira Bloom, Claire Martin, to mention just a few, have truly trailblazed, marking the path for others to follow. And follow they have. The jazz scene is packed with wonderful musicians both male and female and here are just a few of the female musicians to watch for, their names given by musicians themselves.

This series will feature eight musicians at a time and the first octet is here:

1)Meilana Gillard is a saxophonist and composer who rose to gain a reputation as a tremendous player while studying in New York in the early 2000s. She has worked with an array of notable musicians including Greg Osby and Christian McBride. Now based in Ireland, this musician is definitely one to watch.

2)Sasha Berliner is a vibraphonist who found her instrument only when the Oakland School of Arts, who she had auditioned for, told her they had enough drummers, but would she consider the vibraphone> She did and the rest, as they say, is history. Berliner has worked in cities across America and became known for an open letter she wrote about her experiences as a female musician, which create a definite stir in the higher echelons of jazz when she was just nineteen. So far, she has released three solo albums and has been a sides person on one. She has performed as band leader at the NYC Winterjazzfest and performed at the Atlanta Jazz Fest and she received the LetterOne Rising Star jazz award in 2019.

3)Shannon Barnet is an Australian trombonist who, since her Young Australian Jazz Artist of the Year award in 2007, at the Australian Jazz Bell Awards, has gone on to perform in various ensembles and recordings. She has played with Charlie Haden, Andrea Keller, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Christian McBride, Joshua Redman, Maria Schneider, and many other top class musicians. Now based in Cologne, she has her own quartet and has been key to many projects. In 2019 she became professor for Jazz trombone at the Hochschule fur Musik und Tanz in Cologne. In 2020 Barnet won the WDR Jazzpreis for improvisation and in 2022 the German Jazz Prize in brass instrument category.

4)Ginger Bennett is a vocalist, composer and actor from London who now lives on the southeast coast of the UK. She has a powerful voice which is nigh on note perfect and when she sings, she gets the audience’s attention in an instant. She has sung backing vocals, lead vocals and been a key member of many bands including the 9 piece soul band the KD Dance orchestra, who play venues including Pizza Express Jaz Club and the Canterbury Festival.

5) Macy O is a vocalist from the UK. She also plays trombone and piano. She is still at college but at the age of 11 years, she received a government grant and award for gifted and talented children. She attends the CYM, a division of the Guildhall School of Music in London, and studies music. Since she was eleven years old, Macy has performed at prestigious events, including those at the )2 arena. She has attended many open mic nights and starred as Jemima in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in Birmingham. Currently working on her first album, her first single – a charity release in support of Ukraine, was widely acclaimed, so the album should be amazing. Macy O is a definite one to watch.

6) Vocalist Laura Ainsworth is a third-generation jazz musician. Ainsworth has a wide range and blends old-style jazz with sumptuous, rich sounds. Her albums have enjoyed success in many countries, including Japan, the Us and elsewhere. She has toured India and Dubai and featured in Downbeat Magazine, and other industry-important titles. Her awards are many but include her unprecedented three award sweep of the AMG Heritage Awards for Female Vocalist and three Global Music Awards bronze medals as well as two Clouzine International Music Awards.

7) Lauren Dalrymple is a vocalist who has been singing since she was eight years old. Initially singing in choirs in venues such as The Royal Festival and Albert Halls, she received vocal training, before becoming a backing vocalist and getting session work – no surprise when you hear her voice. When she was just nineteen years old, Dalrymple decided to go solo. She met Alex Wilson and their musical partnership soon blossomed and she featured on several of Wilson’s albums. Dalrymple organises jazz jam sessions in London – something she has done for over two decades- and she encourages professional and amateur musicians to collaborate. Dalrymple has performed in many places, including Sardinia, France, Austria, Colombia, Finland and her line up of collaborators is like a who’s-who of jazz, including Alex Wilson, Alabama 3, Robert Mitchell, Tomorrows Warriors, Daniel Crosby, Keith Waithe, Cleveland Watkiss, Gwyn J.Allen, Noel McCoy, Ruby turner and many more.

8) Cassie Watson Francillon is a New Orleans-based harpist who explores folk, jazz, classical, modern, and experimental music. Francillon studied under renowned harpists Gabriella Pinto, Brandee Younger, Mia Theodoratus and Patrice Fisher, she composes, teaches, and has served on the board of the New Orleans Chapter of the American Harp Society. Her roles are extensive and important – she was the Assistant Producer of the annual New Orleans Jazz and Pop Harp Weekend in 2018-2019 and is a producer of the Sirens in the Twilight Music Series series. She has been principle harpist in opera productions and has released albums to critical acclaim. Francillon is sought after as a session musician and live productions. She has played with Nora Jones, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Cameron Mitchell, and many more. Her performances at the New Orleans Jazz Museum are mesmerising, and include the ‘Quarantunes’ session where she puts a unique spin on traditional tunes., & Charm Taylor to name a few. She was selected by Prospect Arts Group to conceptualize and perform a diasporic piece with Guardians of the Flame Black Masking Indians, opening for Chief Xian aTunde Adjuah Christian Scott at the P.5 Gala of 2022. Cassie was selected by Grammy and Tony Award-winning NEA Jazz Master Dee Dee Bridgewater to be a fellow of the Woodshed Network for Women in Jazz.

There is too little space to put a lot of detail on each musician but hopefully, these brief introductions will inspire you to check out more of their work. Links below.


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