Views and Brews: Women in the Jazz Conversation
There are many ways to approach the topic of women in the jazz conversation. It would be easy to start with the great female jazz vocalists whose names are now synonymous with the genre, like Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, but the truth is that women have never been strangers on the jazz stage in any element of performance. Think of saxophonists like Vi Burnside and Margaret Backstrom or, more recently, pianists like Hazel Scott and Eliane Elias.
At our Views and Brews discussion on the topic of Women in the Jazz Conversation our wonderful panel tried to hit all the right notes in an hour that flew by all too quickly. KUT’s Jay Trachtenberg and Laurie Gallardo were joined on stage by the incredible talents of singers Akina Adderley and Pamela Hart along with the amazing Dr. James Polk on keys for an evening of conversation and music that left everyone wanting more.
Dr. James Polk is both a master keyboardist and storyteller. He talked of Cab Calloway’s older sister Blanche, who actually was an accomplished bandleader before her younger brother Cab, who often credited her as his inspiration for entering show business. Cab become a jazz legend in part thanks to the jazz arrangements, “the book,” that Blanche used with her band. Dr. Polk also entertained the audience in the Cactus Cafe with his stories about the lessons he learned while playing for Marla Gibbs in Los Angeles.
Akina Adderley, grand-niece of the legendary Cannonball Adderly, told us of a conversation she had with a family friend by the name of Nancy Wilson, (yes! that Nancy Wilson) who told her that it wasn’t all that tough for her to break into the business as a jazz vocalist because “she just showed up and could play.” The point being, that in jazz it never seemed to be whether you were a woman or a man but whether or not you “could hang.”
Austin’s first lady of jazz, Pamela Hart, talked about her early days as a singer. Her inspirations, her challenges and her idols, and shared stories about learning how to talk the jazz language. It’s a language she now helps teach to other aspiring performers through her Women in Jazz Concert Series every year at the Paramount Theatre here in Austin. This year’s Summer Jam is coming up July 23rd.
The night of storytelling and conversation mixed with the breathtaking performances by both Akina and Pamela, who wowed the captivated crowd with Dr. Polk backing them brilliantly, was truly magical. As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote:
“The millions, that around us are rushing into life, cannot always be fed on the sere remains of foreign harvests. Events, actions arise, that must be sung, that will sing themselves. Who can doubt, that poetry will revive and lead in a new age, as the star in the constellation Harp, which now flames in our zenith, astronomers announce, shall one day be the pole-star for a thousand years?”
It was a night to remember and if you couldn’t make it, you can listen to the full audio recording here. Be sure to check back to watch highlights of the event on video soon.
Coming up this month at Views and Brews we’ll touch on politics and Tennessee Williams and we have more of our jazz conversation series when rabbi Neil Blumofe returns in August with a look at the music of Miles Davis. Stay tuned!!