By: Amanda Ekery
Happy Women’s History Month! I’m happy to share some exciting books I’ve recently read that have shaped new thoughts and ideas for my music and also El Paso Jazz Girls' programming.
You can check out these books at the library, download an e-book, or support a local EP bookstore like Bookmark or Literarity! EP Jazz Girl, Chantal Camus, did a wonderful vlog with the owner of Literarity which you can watch here.
1. Letters to a Young Artist by Anna Deavere Smith
“I was trained at a time when artists were thought to be “special” people. I don’t think we are so special. I think the world around us in incredibly special, incredibly magnificent, in its lightest and darkest and most ordinary muted parts. I am looking to speak, in this book, to you brace folk, younger than I, who are trying to express something that you feel will make a difference in the way this earth stays in orbit.” Is there more to add? This book has wonderful lessons for students of any age that dispel the commercial image of an artist.
2. Emergent Strategy – adrienne maree brown
adrienne maree brown has been my favorite new author (new to me) of 2020! Their work is transformational, rooted in sci-fi future thinking, and is all about community facilitation – how do we connect, serve others, make space and work towards a common purpose. They were also born in El Paso, so shoutout to the sun city! Emergent Strategies is about ways to organize ideas, people, resources, and collective wants that have filled me with so much inspiration for future El Paso Jazz Girls programming and how we can better connect and serve our community. Highly recommend for anyone who works with other people, so basically everyone.
3. Blues Legacies and Black Feminism – Angela Davis
Angela Davis is the best at stating what is. Jazz music was born out of the struggle and oppression of Black Americans and specifically Black women’s voices, and Angela brings that front and center in this book. There are chapters on Ma Rainey, Billie Holiday, and Bessie Smith and the book examines how their work, music, and mindsets reflect modern feminist ideals and helped shaped not only the music but the collective consciousness of musicians and audiences. I watched the August Wilson play “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” on Netflix this past year too and think it pairs nicely with this book in terms of putting words to visuals.
4. Educated by Tara Westover
This memoir is about Tara Westover’s relationship to education but also about class structures, geographical perspectives, and family. I could not put this down, her story is both incredulous and incredible. The first time Tara attended school, she was 17. The book starts with her childhood and her family’s beliefs which did not include schooling, and goes through her journey of eventually earning a doctorate. She’s very honest sharing how her lack of academic knowledge at times was embarrassing, but in the end, there is so much outside of an institution that made her who she is and contributed to her intelligence. I think this is so true with many fields, but specifically with music. If someone doesn’t read notated music or doesn’t know theoretical terms they can feel inadequate in certain academic spaces, but everyone has value and other attributes to bring to the table. I see this every year with El Paso Jazz Girls and make sure the curriculum includes everyone at all levels.
5. Cast Away Poems For our Time by Naomi Shihab Nye
Naomi Shihab Nye’s collection of poems, Cast Away, is all about trash. The trash we create, the repurposed/recycled lives trash has, and the possible stories behind the trash that we choose to discard. I found it so interesting, and yes if you’ve talked to me this past year I have gotten into trash and specifically how sanitation departments function, but this collection of poems relates on a broader level. It made me think about the material objects that we become attached to emotionally, what will become of them after we’re gone, and the broader effect of material objects in our world.
6. The City We Became – N.K. Jemisin
Newly awarded MacArthur Genius, N.K. Jemisin is a science fiction goddess. Her work is always gripping, unexpected, and shows us worlds that are possible, perhaps probable, but always unexpected. Her latest book, The City We Became, is set in New York City with supernatural creatures, multi-universes, and five main characters representing each of the five boroughs. It’s almost super-heroesque but with none of the traditional tropes and a takedown of stereotypes. It’s the first book in a forthcoming series and was really enjoyable to reimagine a city ecosystem and how everyone’s political agenda, personal footprint, or biases have an effect.
7. The Stranger Diaries – Elly Griffith
If you’re into murder mysteries, this one is worth a read! It’s similar to Dracula in form because the whole story is revealed through diary entries by the characters. It’s fun, placed in a remote area of England, and cool to read multiple perspectives that are unfiltered. It’s like being able to read someone else’s mind, nice if you can do it.
8. Dream More: Celebrate the Dreamer in You by Dolly Parton
Dolly has surged into the public eye this past year. From her new holiday album, to her amazing book “Songteller: My Life in Lyrics,” to being a main funder for the Moderna Covid vaccine, Dolly really does do it all. I also watched her Netflix show, Heartstrings, and although Hallmark channel did come to mind, it was Dolly’s advice, aka Dollyisms, that made me keep watching. This short book is a collection of all her Dollyisms like “find out who you are and do it on purpose.” It was a nice quick read and will put a smile on your face.
9. Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown
I love Brené Brown. I feel like I include her in this list every year, but every year she just keeps putting out amazing work that is backed by research! This past year she has also been producing a podcast and has guests like Tarana Burke and Dolly Parton, and it breaks down her research process into clear understandable, actionable steps. Braving the Wilderness seemed appropriate this year as it’s about searching for true belonging and how courage and vulnerability are at the root of it all. Really wonderful read and particularly for Texans as it holds space for all sides of an opinion that is so true to Texas – multiple perspectives at all times.
10. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
Victoria Schwab is a fantasy/comic/graphic novel writer and said that this book has been in her mind for years, it just took time to tell it. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is romantic, heartbreaking, scary, and magical, everything you could want. I cried, I read ahead, I responded out loud to what I read and would recommend it to anyone. To not give anything away but get you hooked, Addie is an 18th century Frenchwoman who makes a deal with a demon/deity to live forever, but after the deal is made, everyone who meets Addie immediately forgets her. One of my favorite lines is “What is a person, if not the marks they leave behind” and I think that's true in the relationships we foster and the people we play music with.
Tanya Kalmanovitch, violist and incomparable thinker/educator, has started a newsletter called The Rest. It’s filled with practical advice and leaves me thinking and questioning the purposes behind music-making and the music world. It’s amazing and I highly HIGHLY recommend you subscribe to read - https://therest.substack.com/
What have you been reading this past year? Let me know by sending an email on our Connect page or tell me this June at our summer program which you can now sign up for!