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date: 24 October 2019

Women in jazzlocked

  • Sherrie Tucker


Women have participated on every instrument, in every style, and in every era of jazz history. Yet, with the notable exception of singers and a number of pianists, female jazz musicians have been continuously overlooked in the most prestigious areas of jazz practice, marketing, and documentation. These include the recording and broadcasting industries, major performance venues, trade magazines, and jazz history books. Also impeding the acceptance of women in venerated jazz roles and on jazz circuits are prevailing definitions of gender that made it appear unfeminine for women to play the most highly valued jazz instruments and styles, to perform in the venues where jazz was heard and where jazz skills were shared and developed, to appear on the stage, or to compete with men. Women’s jazz musicianship throughout the history of the music has persevered despite such obstacles.

In addition to the persistent, if marginalized, presence of women in jazz generally, evidence exists of separate spheres of participation where female players found work opportunities and relative acceptance. These spheres – which constituted different things at different times – have included family bands, all-woman bands, local venues, music education, novelty acts, singing, and playing so-called feminine instruments (harp, for instance, rather than trumpet). Women jazz musicians whose careers followed these paths paid a price of omission, however, as such activities were routinely ignored, trivialized, or considered “not real jazz” by historians, journalists, bookers, agents, audiences, and/or fellow musicians. In a sense, these feminized, devalued spheres simultaneously enabled women’s participation in jazz and guaranteed their erasure from its history. The appearance of a special entry on women in this dictionary is both testimony and corrective to this history....

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