Essay: The history of women instrumentalists in jazz

As a female jazz saxophone player, alumna of the “Conservatoire Royal de Bruxelles” and programmer for a jazz bar, I wondered why there are so few female instrumentalists in the jazz scene. The history of jazz in books and also as taught in schools barely mentions any female instrumentalists. Did they never exist, or are we missing out on them? And why are most women in jazz singers? And why are those few female instrumentalists in the history of jazz mostly piano players? Which female jazz musicians can be my examples?

Of course I can and I do learn from the great male players that have paved the road of jazz, and from the ones that are giving direction to the development of the music nowadays. But nevertheless, I wanted to find out more about some great female players from the past and present – about their lives, their music and about the challenges they had to face to make a living as a jazz musician in a male dominated work field.

My goal in writing this essay was not to complain about the way things are, but to learn more about some great jazz women of the past and the present. I hoped to find some explanations for the unequal ratio of men and women in jazz, to help me find my own way in this male dominated jazz world and to create more awareness of this phenomenon.