‘A place to share their voice and to be heard’

In March 2021, Jazz North’s Jazz Camp for Girls was delivered online with partners Women in Jazz MediaConductive MusicJ FriscoCreative Heights, and BlueJam Arts. Fiona Ross from Women in Jazz Media tells us how it went…

I was incredibly excited to be involved in the Jazz Camp for Girls initiative this year, having first discovered this wonderful project through the fantastic tutor, saxophonist and all round legend, Helena Summerfield a couple of years ago. Helena is one of those people whose enthusiasm is infectious. You literally feel the energy and passion just by talking to her and you also imagine that if every young girl had her as a teacher, female jazz musicians would be everywhere, and the world would generally be a better place.

Inspired by a project first created by JazzDanmark and Copenhagen Jazz Festival, this much needed initiative aims to address the gender imbalance in jazz – and my goodness, does it need addressing.  As the founder of Women in Jazz Media, I specifically created the organisation to encourage and support a more diverse jazz community and to address this historical gender imbalance in all areas of the jazz industry, including the media side – journalists, photographers, presenters etc –  an area that has in many ways lacked support and attention. I literally leapt on the opportunity to be involved in this year’s Jazz Camp and introduce a media element to the project and I am extremely grateful for Jazz North’s encouragement and support.

There is something immensely exciting about seeing a group of young students inspired by jazz. It’s especially exciting when it is a group of female students in this historically male dominated industry surrounded and supported by an inspiring team of tutors, all with the same passion and love of jazz and of education. The opening session, led by Helena, was superb. Trying to engage and excite students via Zoom has been one of the many topical challenges of the year, but this was not going to deter her and within minutes, all of us were clapping out rhythms and grooving in our seats.

The range of tutors and content of the sessions for the day was incredible. Sessions on using computer coding to create music, using the outdoors environment to improvise and compose, interpreting jazz standards and sessions on graphic scores. J Frisco, the award-winning avant-garde jazz trio, as well as delivering the graphic scores session, led a brilliant discussion on ‘being in a band’ – the ups and down – and what emerged as a clear message was the overwhelmingly supportive and motivational environment of an all-female collective.

My involvement in the day was creating Girls in Jazz Media workshops for photography and for presenting. I wanted to show the girls the power of storytelling and how they can use their voices to tell their own stories or the stories of others, through photography, writing or presenting a podcast and hopefully give them some confidence to do it. Hannah Davis, a phenomenal photographer, specialises in creating worlds that are pulled from the depths of my imagination; which are wrapped up in childhood nostalgia, wonder, and magic’ teamed up with music photographer and videographer Warren Woodcraft to show the girls some basic photography techniques, along with explaining which rules to break and when (this is jazz after all!), and how to use photography to tell stories. The results were outstanding.

Vocalist and presenter Ashaine White joined me for a second storytelling session, where we talked to the girls about interview techniques and explored the power of female role models and the importance of everyone having a voice. There is something hugely exhilarating about sharing the stories of incredible women with young girls. You see that moment of realisation when their faces light up with that moment of ‘so, I can do that then?!’  Journalist Angelika Beener, Jazzmeia Horn, Terri Lyne Carrington and Nina Simone were the women we explored in these sessions and it was an honour to share some of their work with the girls.

The day ended with a discussion panel on careers in the jazz industry from promotion, performing, composing and event management and where the girls could put questions to the panel. A poignant moment, and one that allowed me to reflect on the importance of this event, was the question ‘does racism exist in the music industry?’. This question alone highlighted the strength and power of these young girls’ voices and this awareness of the societal issues being faced across the world in the young generation must not be overlooked. How many spaces to these girls – or anyone – have to ask such questions and have genuine, open discussions without fear? Historically, women have struggled to be heard, especially in the jazz industry and we must be under no illusion that this problem has gone away, despite incredible development in this area. Girls need to grow and develop in a world where they not only believe they have a voice but have a safe place to find and explore that voice. A place to share their voice and to be heard and valued. A voice that is shared through an instrument, a creation, spoken or written words or any form of art is a thing of beauty and power and arguably jazz is the perfect space for this.  Jazz Camp for Girls allowed these young women to explore their voices and showed us all the importance of jazz as a tool for exploration, reflection and development. It was an honour to be involved.

By Fiona Ross

Photo credit Warren Woodcraft

Helena Summerfield interviews Fiona Ross: