The future is always the present and the past, too, because we shape it based on what we have experienced and because we now have to start changing things that we want to be different.
The topic “Women in Jazz” is nothing new. At the same time, it is one where the changes in our scene can almost be traced as an example. Up until at least the 1970s female jazz musicians/instrumentalists were rare – at least it seemed so because the press mostly reported on their male colleagues.
Again and again there were advances in the jazz press, then in the 1980s the first publications that were supposed to document that there was a glaring gap in jazz history. Rosetta Reitz’s Women in Jazz record series (1980-1981), Sally Placksin’s book Women in Jazz (1982), Linda Dahl’s Stormy Weather. The Music and Lives of a Century of Jazzwomen” (1984) changed the narrative. They documented that throughout jazz history there have always been women musicians, vocalists as well as instrumentalists. So they changed the perception of history, but not so much the present, which was still characterized by a fundamental skepticism towards female musicians in a male-dominated scene.
It was first singular, then more and more events, workshops, concerts, festivals that focused on the presence of women in jazz. And there were more and more demands for a gender-balanced composition of committees, for programs in which the proportion of female musicians (or at least bandleaders) is at least as high as that of men. There was an awareness that a desirable future can only be achieved by making changes in the present. Equal juries are now the norm rather than the exception; Festivals or workshops that don’t ensure that female artists are at least adequately represented must reckon with a well-deserved shitstorm.
There is still a lot to be done in the university professorships and in the radio big bands, but the topic has basically arrived everywhere. It’s a topic not only in jazz, but actually in society as a whole, so it can no longer be pushed aside so easily. We also focused on the topic at the Darmstadt Jazz Forum (e.g. 2015: Gender and Identity in Jazz; 2021: Roots | Heimat: Diversity in Jazz), and yet we too have to be accused of not always having designed our program in an exemplary manner : The lack of gender balance not only prevails in jazz, but also in jazz research or jazz journalism.
The future – so much should be said here in summary, is never just made of hope; it needs activists in the present. However, this is not exactly new to us either; socially we are currently experiencing this everywhere. So when we talk about the future, we must always also look at the discourses of the present, not so much critically questioning as encouraging. The more opinions have their say, the more people identify with the topic, the easier it is to negotiate a future in which everyone feels involved.