I started creating El Paso Jazz Girls after two events:
1) Someone I knew posted on Facebook “girls just don’t like jazz” as a response to why there are few females in big bands
2) I found out that only 7 females have made Texas All-State Jazz Band in the last decade, which is less than 2% of members.
Talk about a two blows to the head! People I knew still had uninformed opinions about why jazz has fewer females, and my own home state had some disappointing stats.
So, I started planning El Paso Jazz Girls and diving into the reasons why female demographics are so low in jazz education. I researched curriculum at jazz programs, looked at who was teaching where, and found some amazing articles and studies by fellow females in the field. Dr. Ariel Alexander proved that most young girls don’t join or drop out of jazz education due to the masculine image of jazz, gender stereotypes of instruments, and competitive and dominating settings. Tracy McMullen of Bowdoin University has revealed how jazz slang language such as “sidemen,” “killin,” and “ya man” has negative affects on females. I also found that out of the 190 places Downbeat recommended to study jazz, only 9 had females in charge of their jazz program.
All this research supports El Paso Jazz Girls’ need to empower girls interested in learning jazz in a supportive community, and to cultivate more awareness. So, that’s what we’re trying to do!
Now you may be thinking, why jazz music? Well for one, I love it. But jazz music also has significant learning benefits no matter what career you go into. Through jazz, you learn about leadership from working with all different kinds of personalities, making decisions on what to play where, and discovering when it’s best to say something or just listen. Improvisation is also key in jazz music, which stems from self-creation, exploration, and feeds into self-confidence, flexible mindsets, and problem solving skills that all happen in real-time. If that’s not enough for you, jazz also has a malleable quality to it. You can shape it to fit your personal style, pick out the aspects you like and leave the others, and it’s an ever-changing thing that’s molded into all kinds of shapes, sounds, and words. I don’t expect every El Paso Jazz Girls' participant to become a professional musician, but I do want them to develop the beneficial skills jazz can teach and apply them to whatever they decide to pursue.
El Paso Jazz Girls is possible thanks to a lot of folks. I organize, write grants, and do a lot of unsexy things for this program to run (you can learn more about me at www.amandaekery.com), but no one achieves anything alone. We have some wonderful sponsors who donate space, material, and even donuts! We work with fine educators to spread the word about our programs and connect us with students. We have AMAZING participants! Talk about young, intelligent, excited, and eager musicians – they rock.
I’m also so so so grateful for our teaching artists, without whom none of this would be possible. Each and every one of them is a dynamite musician, person, and was homegrown in the Lone Star State. Bringing home successful female musicians is eye opening for participants. They’re able to ask questions, see various career opportunities, and know that a life in music is attainable as a girl from El Paso.
Lastly, I want to thank you! Thank you for reading this letter, for visiting our website, and for taking time to learn about what we do. My vision is to grow El Paso Jazz Girls into a statewide program and eventually into a national campaign - sharing resources, tips, and support to other similar programs. Small, meaningful, and deliberate steps will get us there, and I hope you are along for the walk.