Knowing the Score | Sojourners

Knowing the Score

For many in the Christian tradition, it's a common Lenten discipline to think about confession and complicity. Some recent reading I've been doing has made me very conscious of a particular confessional moment.

In the mid-'70s I played in a jazz band-an award-winning band to boot. It had never before had a woman member, but Lynn Block, a talented trombonist and a true jazz and blues enthusiast, joined the band the same year as I did. This was not a popular decision with many in the band, and as a new member, I chose to remain silent in the debate. Lynn was harassed until she eventually decided to leave the group. Like any good musician (and insightful young woman), Lynn knew the score.

This is not a new experience; it has dogged jazz music throughout its existence. Now let's get this straight: There have always been jazzwomen. Just as there were always blueswomen. But the women, often suffering the double burden of being black and female, got more guff and less recognition (and much less money). Some hung in, carried the message, and today the industry has a representative showing of women instrumentalists.

Madame Jazz: Contemporary Women Instrumentalists, by Leslie Gourse (Oxford University Press, 1995), tells the story of modern female jazz instrumentalists. Concentrating primarily on the jazz world from the '70s to the present, Gourse argues that women, though still discriminated against in hirings, at least have the opportunity to prove themselves. As a result, many women players have emerged as legitimate talents.

As in any good biography of a movement, Madame Jazz allows anecdotes to carry the message of the travails of breaking into a world that is mostly unresponsive or antagonistic to a new presence. Gourse includes the stories of such women as alto saxophonist Sue Terry, pianist Shirley Horn, and percussionist Marilyn Mazur. Unfortunately, the book is short on analysis, and without the

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 1996
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