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  • Donny Thompson, M.S., NPA

Sarah Milligan Story

From Sarah Milligan, JOI Friend and Former Social Media Manager

I want to share with you all a story.

I decided to do an experiment preparing for Jazz Girls Texas. I looked up famous jazz musicians on the internet and, like expected, the search results were primarily male (with a couple of singers).

I said to myself, I wonder what jazz would look like half female? Our world population is close to half and half so why should jazz be?

I replaced half of the men on the page with pictures of female jazz musicians and the results were shocking. Emotionally I realized how subconsciously this has effected me as a musician. I have had to dig and dig to find women in jazz I look up to, so of course if I am new to jazz the Google search results will make me think jazz is not a place for me as a young girl. If the only famous ones according to the search engines are men, why would I waste my time?

I showed this during my presentation at Jazz Girls Texas, and I asked the girls what their initial reactions were to the two photos. I had a student raise her hand and say how at first she saw the second picture and thought to herself, "There are too many girls in this photo, but then I counted and realized it was half and half".

This tugged at my heart because of the mere idea that many of use are walking around with this impression that having half and half/ male/ female, demographics in jazz feels like too many women.

What can we do today as educators and musicians? Make females present in our jazz history courses, have more female clinicians come to your schools, recruit more women from your concert bands to be in jazz band, and more!

If we work together we can make women present in jazz, so some day, it doesn't cross a budding jazz musicians mind that having a jazz band of half men and women feels like too many.

* It is important to note the male musicians covered up were replaced at random to show the gender balance of jazz. This experiment was not intended to replace the jazz greats, but to show ratios of the genders in jazz and how it influences what young musicians think about jazz. 

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