El Paso Jazz Girls
by Amanda Ekery
I started planning for El Paso Jazz Girls, a clinic for female identifying high school students, after discovering that in the last decade only seven girls had made Texas All-State Jazz Band – less than 2% of all participants. As a Texas native, that demographic was shocking. We have one of the largest music educators’ associations; we have one of the first jazz degree programs at the University of North Texas; and we have high school jazz festivals all across the state. Yet, in my hometown of El Paso, Texas there are currently zerogirls in the El Paso Jazz Ensemble and zerofemale jazz faculty members on staff at our university, out-of-school jazz programs, and other jazz camps.
My goal was to make a direct, practical intervention for gender equality in my hometown’s jazz community.
1) Plan clinic schedule – what essential skills and ideas do we need to share with girls during our limited time together? What listening examples will be most beneficial to expose girls to different types of jazz, females in jazz, articulation, and styles prevalent in the all-state music?
2) Secure venue for clinic – central location that is easily accessible from all areas of El Paso, and includes equipment we need.
3) Recruit professional female musicians from Texas to be El Paso Jazz Girls’ teaching artists. Having female staff is imperative!!
4) Secure funding – El Paso Jazz Girls is cost-free for participants because I want to ensure that any female-identifying student interested in jazz can participate regardless of financial need. El Paso Jazz Girls was funded by local businesses (auto salvages, bakeries, restaurants, and music stores), an online crowd-funding campaign, and grants from New England Conservatory, Jazz Education Network, and the Herb Alpert Foundation.
5) Create materials – what handouts do you need to make? Do you need folders, nametags, staff paper, etc? I chose to also print stickers with the El Paso Jazz Girls’ logo. Girls LOVED the stickers and put them on their binders, phones, and folders.
6) Logistics – what forms do girls need to sign for liability, photo permissions, etc? Who is going to open the door? How will the rooms be set up? What equipment is needed for listening and sectionals?
Share the event with every school districts’ fine arts department and band/orchestra/choir/piano/guitar directors. For El Paso Jazz Girls, I posted flyers at music stores, contacted private lesson teachers, and shared the event on social media. Additionally, I reached out to my friends who are active in the local music scene and went on our local radio station, KTEP, to share the program.
By calling every director in town, I was able to explain the purpose behind El Paso Jazz Girls – why it is important now, what we’re doing to help change the demographic, what my qualifications are, and more importantly to bring awareness to the lack of diversity in jazz!
Promoting the same way, recruits the same participants, which perpetuates the same demographics.
When I think of hosting, I think of a good party. I want snacks, music, maybe some swag to take home. I translated that to El Paso Jazz Girls. We’re grateful that a local female owned bakery donated donuts for our first day. As soon as girls walked into the room, they got a donut, made their own nametag, were given a personalized folder, and started hanging out and meeting other girls.
Make the clinic fun and comfortable for students. Put your own spin on it, and host a program that is welcoming, encouraging, and exciting from the start.
I wrote a curriculum that included theory fundamentals and technique girls needed to learn for all-state, and included discussion/listening sessions. Theory focused on the blues – reading and interpreting chord changes, and scales. Each teaching artist taught individual sectionals, covering technique and interpretation of all-state music. Discussion/listening sessions were dedicated to jazz herstory, and a diverse range of female performers, composers, and producers.
El Paso Jazz Girls daily schedule:
- Theory Fundamentals
- Sectional/Other Topics
- Jam Session
Connect and Follow Up
At the end of the clinic we conducted short exit interviews with participants to learn what was helpful about the clinic, what they were surprised about, and get suggestions for next year.
In order to serve as an ongoing resource for girls, I created an El Paso Jazz Girls website. Our site has online resources and a blog where we can keep the discussion going/stay in contact with each other. I found out Facebook is no longer cool and Instagram is not great for sharing a lot of text, so a website was best for us.
Our plans are to grow El Paso Jazz Girls next year by opening the program to all instruments and voice. There are many girls who sing and play flute, cello, clarinet, etc., that aren’t allowed to participate in Texas jazz auditions because they don’t play “typical” jazz instruments (deemed by the TMEA). In growing our community, it’s important that we make accommodations for all – giving girls the opportunity to learn about jazz, and to connect with others.
I’ll end with two thoughts:
- Assess your local resources
- Experiment constantly
Think of all the resources you have locally. Other jazz camps, music organizations, and educators may be doing amazing work already. How can you partner with them to help improve gender equality? It would be remiss of me if I did not share some amazing programs that started before mine that I looked to for inspiration including Geri Allen’s All-Female Jazz Residency, Sonoma Jazz Girls, and JazzGirls Day.
You can experiment small and do a weekend workshop for girls, hire a female clinician to work with your big band, play music written by females (oh my gosh why isn’t this happening more!), offer scholarships for young female musicians to your existing summer jazz program, or hire more female teaching artists for your camp faculty. There are so many ways you can experiment; engage your community, and be more active in seeking and retaining female musicians to create a balanced and inclusive jazz world.
Vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, Amanda Ekery collaborates with historians, artists, and humans of all professions to create projects that are relevant to our current social climate. She weaves her experience in underground rock, improvisatory creative music, research, and jazz into her compositions, workshops, and community-based performances. To connect with Amanda, please visit www.amandaekery.com.