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  • Andrea Hansen

Women in Jazz: The Influencers

March is Music in Education Month, which is perfect because it brings together artistic and educational programming, two of South Hudson Music Project's three mission pillars, and fits them neatly into one package. We are lucky here at SHMP and The Royal Room because we are constantly surrounded by people and organizations who make music education a priority, and we strive to ensure that education groups have every opportunity to come and perform on our stage. This month we're especially thrilled to have two multi-night performances and workshops from educational powerhouses. From our friends just around the corner, Jazz Night School's winter performances featuring groups from their small ensemble, big band, and vocals programs take place at the Royal Room March 11-13 and we can't wait to see what these dedicated students have been working on during the winter session. Next, we are excited to welcome Indigo Mist, the brainchild ensemble of UW School of Music faculty members Richard Karpen and Cuong Vu, to the Royal Room for a four-day residency with tenor saxophonist George Garzone. With such luminaries of improvisation up on the stage, you won't want to miss a minute of this residency.


Speaking of music education, March is also Women's History Month, so let's talk about women in jazz history, which has been a bit of a mixed bag. Many are recognized as teachers and influencers of some of their more well-known male counterparts, while others have faded into obscurity for reasons unknown. Dorothy Ashby was one of the latter figures in jazz history, as she was critically acclaimed during her heyday in the '50s and credited as "the most unjustly underloved jazz greats" of the decade. She was a renowned harpist and composer who brought the harp into focus as a jazz instrument, proving that it was capable of virtuosity and improvisation in the same way as the sax and trumpet. Ashby later went on to create The Ashby Players with her husband in Detroit, a theatre program designed to produce and promote the work of black actors and creators - Ernie Hudson of Ghostbusters fame is one of its alumni - which often featured her original compositions in production. Charlie Parker, whom we celebrated during 188 Sullivan: Charlie Parker's New York in the '50s, was greatly influenced by Mary Lou Williams, another composer and keyboardist who self-taught at the age of 3 and was touring in groups by age 12. During the '60s, like Parker in the previous decade, Williams experimented with bringing classical and jazz compositions together for a new genre, creating masses and hymns for church performances while playing the clubs of New York. Williams' career spanned just over sixty years, and she had a direct influence on the jazz greats of the mid-century, writing and arranging for Benny Goodman and teaching the likes of Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, and Dizzy Gillespie.


For more amazing women in jazz, be sure to make it to the Royal Room on March 26th for Celebrate Women! with the Red Rose Combo - the Red Rose Project is a bi-coastal ensemble collective (Philadelphia and Seattle, and soon international with an ensemble forming in Ottawa) created to promote the work of women composers and lyricists from the '20s to today, with each ensemble featuring outstanding women players from their respective region, and we can't wait to welcome their mission to the stage.


Looking for more outstanding performances by women in jazz this month? Be sure to check out our events calendar for some of the exciting performances we're looking forward to at the Royal Room!

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