NEWS: NYJO tackles the gender imbalance in jazz with year-long programme

Laura Jurd – new commission and Mary Lou Williams arrangement
Photo from artist's website
Peter Bacon reports:

The National Youth Jazz Orchestra (NYJO) has announced the launch of its EQ Project. This is an initiative to encourage more female musicians – or as NYJO politely puts it “to remix the gender balance” – in jazz with a programme of projects and events throughout the year.

The NYJO press release explains:

EQ will include new commissions and arrangements by female jazz composers, plus the Female Jazz Icons concert programme celebrating female contributions to jazz through history, research projects, additional support for young female musicians, and a commitment to achieve a 50/50 gender split of visiting musicians and educators working with the NYJO ensembles.

“New works have been commissioned from Yazz Ahmed, Issie Barratt, Nikki Iles and Mercury nominee Laura Jurd, who is also writing a new arrangement of Mary Lou Williams’ 1945 Zodiac Suite. This element of the project is supported by PRS Foundation’s The Open Fund.”

The official launch of EQ will be on 11 March with a NYJO performance at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley, where the orchestra will be joined by singer and BBC Radio 2 Presenter Clare Teal as guest soloist and co-host alongside NYJO’s Artistic Director Mark Armstrong, and Laura Jurd’s Zodiac Suite arrangement will be premiered.

Some of the events are already confirmed and it all begins on Sunday with Emilia Mårtensson leading the NYJO Jazz Jam at Foyles which is free and open to all jazz musicians 18 and under.

Other confirmed events are:

6 February: NYJO premiere of the Female Jazz Icons programme at Palace Theatre, Redditch.

11 March: Yazz Ahmed leads a Sunday Shed intensive day on using Arabic scales in jazz at Morpeth School in Bethnal Green - again open to musicians 18 and under.

11 July: NYJO performance with guest soloist Yazz Ahmed in Lichfield Cathedral, Staffordshire as part of the Lichfield Festival.

Clare Teal said: “I’m delighted to be involved in NYJO’s EQ Project. There’s a wave of change in the UK jazz industry, and more young female jazz stars are deservedly in the spotlight these days, but it’s only through the institutional leadership of organisations like NYJO that we can translate this into a real depth of female participation throughout the industry. The history of jazz is rich in talented women like Mary Lou Williams, Melba Liston and Valaida Snow, but sadly these wonderful musicians never enjoyed the same level of success or recognition as many of their male counterparts e.g. Duke Ellington, J.J. Johnson or Louis Armstrong. The Female Jazz Icons programme is a great vehicle for celebrating these women while promoting female musicians and composers of today – and we hope it is inspiring for the young jazz musicians of the future too!”

Mark Armstrong said: “We at NYJO are only too aware of the historic gender imbalance in jazz, and of our responsibility to play our part in improving it. The EQ project is about reflecting the change we want to see in education and the industry as well as celebrating the women of jazz, many of whom have been historically undervalued. It’s a chance for NYJO to ask how we can be making our own changes to better support women (and indeed everyone) to engage with jazz at all levels of the organisation. EQ is intended as a catalyst project – by the end of the 2018 there’ll be a greater proportion of works by women in the NYJO repertoire to perform, more female associate educators and a regular programme of female jazz artists working with us in the years to come. We want to create an environment where confident and expressive improvising musicians, who happen to be female, feel welcome and celebrated on an equal footing with all musicians.”

More events, including premieres of the new commissions will be announced in due course.

LINK: NYJO website

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