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Jazz and alpha-male fundamentalism

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Posted by Mark Gilbert, Editor, 17 November 2011, 1:12 (1 of 8)

As a private business, Jazz Journal, unlike some publicly funded arts operations, has never felt obliged to discriminate on the basis of gender, but neither has it excluded women as subjects, writers or subscribers. There have been a few female JJ scribes over the years but none recently until this very issue (December 2011) when Louise Gibbs brings her fine writing and lucid perceptions to our reviewing panel. I'm sure there's a PhD to be had from the question you raise. Is collecting as an expression of male preoccupation with territory? Maybe, but wherefore the excessive enchantment with odd instrumental noises? - The Editor

Posted by Tony Roberts, 20 November 2011, 18:41 (2 of 8)

Yes, it's a perennial problem. I think that the history of JJ and the other magazines show that we, the men, are not really female friendly, or at least in relation to writing and reading. A few female writers have been around for a long time. Val Wilmer and Sally Anne Worsfold were honourable mentions - where will there be any new ones these days? In particular, I regret the current paucity of Ms Wilmer's work - after a few short letters I haven't heard of her for many years. I wonder why? She clearly continues to read and, probably, enjoy the magazine and was always apposite and lucid when she writes. Similarly, where are her current photographs? It's not a question of sexism or a racism in my view. It's more a question of tunnel vision and the probable geekishness of men's interest. Women, in general, are more interested in expressiveness, whilst we men tend to be more interested in instrumentalism. No, not about instruments versus singing, more about the ways in which men address the world. I suggest that you re-read Ms Wilmer's books, or better read them for the first time. They are refreshing and illuminating.

Posted by John Adcock, 20 November 2011, 18:41 (3 of 8)

Some interesting points here to chew on. I'm often struck by the apparent incongruencies between audiences I see at jazz concerts and the perceived readership of JJ and other magazines devoted to the music. Refreshingly, audiences seem pretty diverse to me in terms of age, and pretty balanced in female/male attendance. Only last night at The Barbican there were plenty of young people in the audience (always brilliant to see) - and plenty of females nodding away appreciatively at the music on offer as part of the London Jazz Festival. But when it comes to reading about the music? Who knows? Maybe as Mark says, that whole collecting thing is more male. And you can't help but be struck by the fact that many critics scribbling away in the darkness last night were older men, mostly wearing crumpled jackets that had seen better days. Not necessarily a great image! Maybe the need to preserve the moment rather than enjoy it is more of a male thing?

Posted by Dr Andrew Beddall, 25 November 2011, 12:22 (4 of 8)

My letter was not supposed to be demeaning or derogatory in any gender or racist way. It is a matter of fact. Give me an explanation. I have read Val Wimer's writings with admiration. Are we, as men, flat-capped and opinionated? My wife thinks so. Thanks for comments. Open for debate.

Posted by Mark Gilbert, Editor, 25 November 2011, 12:50 (5 of 8)

Andrew, thanks - I think Tony Roberts might have been referring to my response re Jazz Journal's agnosticism over gender, which also was not intended to be derogatory, just a similar observation of fact. I hope flat-cap wearers won't take offence. My jazz-loving neighbour wears one but as far as I know is a good middle-class liberal type. I believe saxophonist Tommy Whittle has also frequently sported a flat cap, perhaps a sign of solidarity with Scottish golfing tradition. No geopolitical stereotyping intended.

Posted by Graham Marlowe, 26 November 2011, 19:27 (6 of 8)

By all means lets have some female jazz journalists. Perhjaps they would be more enlightened. I have just read the hatchet job on Allan Robertson's biography of Joe Harriott written by Simon Spillett (December issue). I assume Simon wasn't around in the 50s and 60s when casual and gratuitous racism was endemic in the UK, even in the music industry. Harriott was the most imaginative alto player on the scene - but he always came second or third in the Melody Maker polls - about the time of Harriott's death one of the most popular TV shows was Love Thy Neighbour, which like Alf Garnett constantly made malign references to people of colour, and it was accepted as family entyertainment - it was that sort of thing Denis Preston was talking about. Had it not been for Preston, the Harriott/D'Silva Hum-Duno album wouldn't have glot recorded. DP did a lot more for jazz musicians than Spillett is ever likely to achieve. Courtney Pine and Gary Crosby are better qualified to comment and it is unfortuante that Simon Spillett chooses to dismiss opinions which do not accord with his own views.

Posted by Fran Hardcastle, 27 November 2011, 12:23 (7 of 8)

Hello Gentlemen, I feel the need to wade in on this discussion, especially seeing as it is ironically male dominated. I work in jazz, as an bookings consultant (formally for Basho, now independently), as a writer/deputy editor (for LondonJazz) and I have just this week joined the employ of Jazz Services. Firstly may I say that I am really pleased to see Louise Gibbs joining your team and I look forward to reading her writings. I noticed the male domination of jazz journalists some time ago. It is not by any means exclusive to Jazz Journal and seems to be an international phenomenon. In the UK, we can name frequently published female jazz journalists on less than one hand. By comparison there is a plethora of men dominating the field. I took over LondonJazz for International Women's Day back in March, publishing only articles written by female writers to try to highlight the disparity. It has also been noted across the pond in an article for Jazz Times by Nate Chinen. Apart from an A-Level in English, a smattering of experience of writing in the classical world and a complete love for jazz in its many idioms, I have no formal training as a journalist. However I suspect this is the case for most male jazz journalists. So why is it such a male dominated field? I know many opinionated females! Myself being one. I do think that some female writers can approach the music differently to men and their writing style can differ as a result. Most publications tend to be characterised by their general tone of writing which is uniform to their regular contributors. However, any intelligent writer can adjust their writing style to suit and it is the role of the editor to keep this in check. I would be interested to see how many female writers approach jazz publications to try to get published. I don't suspect it's a massive amount but I do believe it happens. I don't think the (male) editor takes these submissions and says 'oh a woman! Let's put it in the bin'. Not consciously anyway. I suspect they think that the writing style doesn't fit and that's that. I think this is something that editors need to be aware of. After all, the readership of any jazz publication isn't exclusively male. Change will come through awareness and adaptation. If it is the case that female contributors themselves are scarce, I would invite my fellow females to stand up and be heard!

Posted by Dr Andrew Beddall, 5 December 2011, 15:13 (8 of 8)

I appreciate Fran Hardcastle's remarks. I have circulated them amongst my female-dominated environment (love them). No answers to where the brilliance of lady-writers go. Not in the bin, I hope. Their views on music should be heard. Merry Christmas.

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