Having just returned from working with literally hundreds of aspiring middle school musicians, I want to take a minute to reflect publicly and positively on the efforts the Reno Jazz Festival at the University of Nevada, Reno are taking toward inclusion in every facet of their event. While I am not wild about the idea of jazz as a competition at any level, I am also aware that the game quite literally changes when we invite a broader swath of performers AND judges to engage in the process.
It was absolutely wonderful to sit with the faculty at the final adjudication and look at a demographic that split evenly down the middle from male to female, to share a lunch table with entirely women by complete coincidence, and to be one of the two female clinicians to work with the middle school students—every single middle schooler at the festival received hands-on instruction from an educated woman who is an active professional in her field.
I cannot tell everyone involved what it would have meant for me, at that age, to have ANY woman the generation above me reach out and say “You can do this”. I did it anyway, as we all know, but I am still trying to unburden myself of the sense that I am not actually supposed to be here.
This change in the music business doesn’t happen by addressing the older, largely straight, largely white, largely male academic population. It starts by building the younger generation into something that allows a broader selection of cultural perspectives to have an equal set of skills across the board. I recognize that this level of diversity isn’t something that happens organically (yet), so much applause to the panel that selected the faculty for being proactive in ensuring that the students at this year’s festival had access to a broader palette of teachers than I was given access to, all those years ago.
All that said, I do want to leave the organizers and adjudicators with this thought: that almost all of the young women who displayed potential or excellence were self-taught, and almost all of the young men who stood out as individuals had the guidance and personal investment of a well-funded school and enthusiastic teacher. As a result, there were some women whose raw talent I felt by far surpassed the raw talent of the young men who ultimately received rewards for individual excellence in their discipline. IF WE WERE ABLE TO GIVE THE SAME ATTENTION TO THESE WOMEN AS WE DO TO THE YOUNG MEN, I HAVE NO DOUBT THEY WOULD HAVE STOOD ON THE SAME LEVEL IF NOT HEAD AND SHOULDERS ABOVE THEIR MALE PEERS IN EVERY WAY. These young ladies WANT to be in the room. If we don’t reach out and educate them with the same firmness, support and attention to detail when they are young, they will be at a professional disadvantage throughout their entire adult careers.
Thank you to everyone for including me, and for giving me a chance to talk for an entire hour, on my own terms, about perceived intellectual bias when it comes to how we assess intelligence on the electric guitar. It was wonderful to be there, and I look forward to seeing everyone involved again soon.