She Wasn’t Bad for a Girl – by Helena Summerfield

As a young, female saxophonist I lost count of the number of times that I was told whenever I played that ‘you’re good for a girl’ or ‘you don’t sound like a girl’. Now, I’m sure these comments were only meant as a compliment but the truth was they niggled at me. What does a girl sound like and why can’t I just sound like me?

I’m Helena Summerfield, a Manchester based saxophonist, teacher and performer. I am passionate about getting girls into playing jazz and improvised music and like to think that those kinds of comments are becoming a thing of the past.

In 2018 I became the project manager for Jazz North’s ‘Jazz Camp for Girls’ inspired by an original project developed by Jazz Danmark and the Copenhagen Jazz Festival. ‘Jazz Camp for Piger’ was designed to address the gender imbalance in jazz and introduce young female musicians to rhythmical, improvised music in a positive, supportive environment. Their first camps took place in 2014 with nearly 50 girls attending and this has steadily grown to over 200 girls spread across 13 cities in Denmark. The tutor ratio on each camp is equally split between male and female and delivered by a combination of experienced music school teachers and professional musicians. After attending ‘Jazz Camp for Piger’, girls are invited to attend further mixed music camps. The girls are recruited first and then applications are opened to boys – the number of girls is matched so that the gender balance within the camp is always equal. I felt really inspired hearing about the project’s success in Denmark and looked forward to recreating something similar in the north of England.

We were awarded with a grant from the Ronnie Scott’s Charitable Foundation to develop and deliver a one-day jazz camp for girls. This took place on Sunday 10th February 2019 in four locations across the north: Huddersfield (Huddersfield University), Manchester (Trafford Music Service and BlueJam Arts joint camp) Lancaster (Lancashire Music Service) and Rotherham (Rotherham Music Service and Sheffield Music Hub joint camp) with more than 70 girls attending in total. Similar to the Danish camps these were led by a mixture of professional musicians and jazz educators including the creator of ‘In the Gap!’ Hannah Brady, J Frisco’s Lara Jones and Megan Roe, Jilly Jarman from BlueJam Arts and electronic musician Werkha (Tom Leah).

I decided that I wanted to create something that the girls could take home with them and refer to after the camp was over so I designed a course handbook packed with snap-shot interviews of female jazz musicians plus helpful practise tips. I wanted to celebrate female musicians working in jazz and introduce our young musicians to new inspirational role models. Luckily both camp staff and participants were delighted with the outcomes of this day. Feedback confirmed that the project had increased the girls’ interest, skills and confidence in improvisation and the camp was rated “Excellent” by 81% of participants and “Good” by 16% participants. I personally loved coordinating the camps and couldn’t wait to start thinking about the future, the five-year plan being to build up a UK Jazz Camp for Girls by adding new partner organisations each year.

At the end of 2019 we received funding from Ronnie Scott’s Charitable Foundation, Harold Hyam Wingate Foundation and The Golsoncott Foundation to deliver a two day (non-residential) Jazz North Jazz Camp for Girls in 2020. Developments from the first year included introducing a trainee music leader placement scheme and I revised the course handbook to include inspiring new releases* by female led ensembles, J Frisco and Nerija. *One such release was by Issie Barrett´s Interchange previously mentioned on these Sidetracks & Detours pages in Virtually A Real Festival.

Six camps were planned to take place in Manchester (Trafford Music Service), Gateshead (The Sage), Lancaster (Lancashire Music Service), Penrith (BlueJam Arts), Blackpool (Up Beat Rock Academy), and Doncaster (Doncaster Youth Jazz Association, Rotherham Music Service and Sheffield Music Hub joint camp) during February and March.

Jazz Camp for Girls in Manchester

The first four camps went ahead with 54 attendees in total but unfortunately due to the Covid-19 pandemic the Doncaster and Blackpool camps had to be postponed. The Blackpool camp was replaced with an online camp lead by Lara Jones and Megan Roe and seven girls attended this. Luckily the online concept worked really well and I am keen to use this idea in the future alongside physical camps for girls living in remote locations. Plans to reschedule the Doncaster Camp are on hold until safe to do so. Although cancelling some camps felt like an anti-climax, feedback from the four camps that took place was extremely positive.

One participant from the Manchester event said ‘It was the best experience of my life. I had so much fun. I learnt new songs and made new friends. I would definitely do it again and would definitely recommend it.’

Jazz Camp for Girls in Manchester

I hadn’t quite forgotten those well-meaning comments from my youth though, as after talking to other female jazzers over the years I had come to realise that I wasn’t alone in having received such comments. Being mistaken by some people for the singer, by others thinking you are carrying your boyfriend’s instrument and by many presuming, before hearing you play, that you’re not as good as your male counterparts, is part of a long list of depressing reactions girls on the jazz scene still often encounter. So, I decided to do something positive, by turning these silly comments on their head and composing a Jazz Camp for Girls anthem. I thought that the song could then be used to help raise awareness of the project and inspire the young camp participants.

Cover artwork for ‘She Wasn’t Bad for a Girl’

‘She Wasn’t Bad For A Girl’ was recorded at Valley Wood Studio in Leeds and released on March 8th 2020 for International Women’s Day.

It features a fantastic line up of northern female jazz musicians with Kathy Dyson (guitar), Nicola Farnon (vocals and bass), Laura Cole (piano), Caroline Boaden (drums), Alex Clarke (tenor saxophone) and myself (alto saxophone) with Nokuthula Zondi delivering vocals. Recording it was a dream come true and I felt honoured to work with these amazing musicians – who just happen to be female!

The song is available on all major download platforms plus you can watch the official video featuring footage from the recording session plus Manchester and Gateshead jazz camps on YouTube here.

Due to Covid-19 the Jazz Camp for Girls project remains on hold but I am looking forward to picking up the project as soon as possible. I enjoy working with these enthusiastic, young musicians and seeing them engage with the music I love. I think the future of jazz is safe in the hands of these talented youngsters!


Female Jazz Musicians record ‘She Wasn’t Bad for a Girl’

An all-star band featuring female jazz musicians associated with Jazz North and the Jazz Camp for Girls project have united to record ‘She Wasn’t Bad for a Girl’ by saxophonist Helena Summerfield.

As Jazz North’s Jazz Camp for Girls Project Manager, Helena was inspired to write the song after thinking about some of the very silly things that had been said to her over the years as a female musician. Things like, “You don’t sound like a girl when you play the saxophone,” and “Are you the singer?” when arriving at a gig carrying an instrument.

The song’s video was released on Sunday 8th MarchInternational Women’s Day – by the Jazz Camp for Girls All Stars band and hits out at the gender stereotypes in a male dominated jazz industry. “Things are changing,” says Helena, “but the stereotypes still need to be broken down. I hope that the song will not just appeal to female jazz musicians, I think that the lyrics relate to common themes in other traditionally male dominated environments. The song is fun but also has a serious message. It turns the phrase ‘she wasn’t bad for a girl’ on its head whilst giving the audience a cheeky wink.”

The All Stars band features Caz Boaden on drums, Nicola Farnon on bass and vocals, Kathy Dyson on guitar, Laura Cole on piano, Alex Clarke on tenor sax, Nokuthula Zondi on vocals and Helena herself on alto sax. “I felt like a kid in a sweet shop,” says Helena. “I had the opportunity to hand pick these amazing players who are all out there doing their thing and can really swing.”

Jazz North’s Jazz Camp for Girls gives 9 to 15-year-old girls the opportunity to flourish under the mentorship of female role models and was where the idea for the song first came about. “At last year’s camp, I decided to create a handbook,” says Helena. “It was filled with snapshot interviews of female jazz musicians, practise tips and resources to empower our young participants. I wanted them to have something physical to take home and to show them that women are making successful careers playing jazz and improvised music. This year I thought that it would be even more exciting to bring our handbook role models to life to perform a Jazz Camp for Girls anthem. I hope you feel inspired after watching the amazing musicians in our video and empowered by its message.”

The video for ‘She Wasn’t Bad for a Girl’ features footage from the recording session at Valley Wood Studio in Leeds, plus girls taking part in the February 2020 Jazz Camp for Girls. Released on Sunday 8th March for International Women’s Day, this also fell during the second jazz camp weekend. “We hope that the song will raise awareness of the Jazz Camp for Girls project and of Jazz North’s commitment to supporting women in jazz,” says Helena. “I’m really excited to see how the song is received and would love to get the band together again to record more material in the future.”

Watch the video for ‘She Wasn’t Bad for a Girl’ here

See more information about Jazz North’s Jazz Camp for Girls here.


Jazz North expands Jazz Camp for Girls

Following the success of 2019’s Jazz Camp for Girls, Jazz North has made the camp bigger for 2020 and is taking it to more places across the north of England including Sage Gateshead and The Northern Jazz Centre in Doncaster.

Overall, six weekend workshops will take place in February and March in Gateshead, Greater Manchester, Huddersfield, Cumbria, Lancaster and Doncaster aiming to offer an unforgettable first experience for girls aged between 9 and 15 years. They will have the opportunity to flourish under the mentorship of female role models, discover improvisation and playing in a band, and to develop their confidence. Now, instead of just one day, the camp will run for a weekend, and instead of just one weekend, the camp will take place on three weekends across the north, giving more girls the opportunity to take part.

Addressing the gender imbalance in jazz, Jazz North’s initiative was inspired by the success of a similar project created by JazzDanmark and Copenhagen Jazz Festival. Jazz Camp for Girls Project Manager Helena Summerfield says the need is still there. “Our pilot Jazz Camp for Girls in 2019 was a great success and confirmed the need for such provision in the region,” says Helena. “We aim to build on this foundation now and reach even more young musicians. The project aims to give girls a really positive experience of playing in a band; the emphasis will be on finding their own voice when improvising and creating new music together. Jazz Camp for Girls will also develop supportive working relationships between the partner organisations and celebrate female role models from the world of jazz.

We have a fantastic group of inspiring tutors from across the north lined up to work with our girls. I am delighted that we have been able to extend the course from one day to a weekend, through generous funding from The Ronnie Scott’s Charitable Foundation, Harold Hyam Wingate Foundation and Golsoncott Foundation, as this will allow everyone to work in more depth and have twice the fun.”

Previous participant Alice aged 14 said last year’s jazz camp “was good because it was well organised and your parents got to come at the end to see what you’d been doing. It made you feel more confident about improvising because some girls hadn’t really improvised before. I thought it would be good to meet other girls that play the saxophone and other jazz instruments.”

The camps will be led by professional female musicians including Alice Grace, Helen Pillinger, J Frisco’s Lara Jones and Megan Roe, Jilly Jarman, Kathy Dyson, Helena Summerfield, Cat Miles, Sonia Mellor and Hannah Brady.

 Partners working together on the project are Sage Gateshead, Musica Kirklees, Doncaster Youth Jazz Association, Sheffield Music Hub, Rotherham Music Service, BlueJam Arts, Trafford Music Service, Lancashire Music Service, University of Huddersfield and Marsden Jazz Festival.

Bit of Background

  • Jazz North was awarded funding for Jazz Camp for Girls from Ronnie Scott’s Charity Foundation, Harold Hyam Wingate Foundation and Golsoncott Foundation. 
  • Jazz North is the jazz development agency in the north funded by Arts Council England as a sector support organisation. Established in 2012 with a ground-breaking approach to supporting and nurturing jazz across the north, it uses the power of collective partnership working to build networks between musicians, educators, promoters and venues, to grow audiences for jazz and to inspire children and young people to make music:
  • JazzDanmark provides counseling, information and networking events and financial support for the jazz industry in Denmark:
  • Copenhagen Jazz Festival Fonden is the organizer of the two annual jazz festivals Copenhagen Jazz Festival, Vinterjazz and live jazz all year round in Copenhagen.