Addressing gender disparity in jazz

1 April 2022
Equity in Jazz Program
The Sydney Conservatorium of Music is paving the way and positioning itself as a global leader as it seeks to address gender inequity in jazz through the Equity in Jazz Program. Central to the program is a postgraduate scholarship and mentoring program, with its first cohort of four candidates commencing in 2022.

The Equity in Jazz Program is the first of its kind in Australia. Modelled on the Composing Women program launched in 2016 , the Sydney Conservatorium of Music (SCM) identified a need for a similar initiative to support women in jazz.

While participation in jazz bands in high school is fairly balanced in terms of gender, participation in jazz at a university level hovers at or below around 10 percent for female and gender diverse players, a level of gender disparity not found in many academic disciplines.

Among other goals, the SCM’s Equity in Jazz Program seeks to provide educators and role models for young women who may want to consider a career in jazz.

Led by Dr Jo Lawry, the program offers a postgraduate scholarship and mentoring. The first cohort of four candidates is made up of women who are vital and singular voices, visionaries and educators in this field. The launch of this program was the catalyst encouraging them to apply and will help qualify them to hold positions that are currently almost exclusively held by men.

Dr Lawry said: "Over the past century gender bias has caused us to miss out on so much deep and important jazz music."

Through this program, not only will the world have the chance to hear more of what these four artists have to say as musicians and researchers, but the ripple effect will create airspace for many more female and gender diverse voices. They are going to change the face and culture of jazz in Australia.
Dr Jo Lawry, Sydney Conservatorium of Music

The SCM is considered a global leader in this area. Since launching the program, many renowned music institutions such as New England Conservatory (Boston) and The Royal Academy of Music (London) have sought direct input concerning how to affect change in their own programs and related professional music scenes.

"The Sydney Conservatorium of Music made a bold and prescient move in hiring Jo Lawry as Equity in Jazz Team Leader. Institutions such as New England Conservatory are paying attention and considering similar plans for our own future," Ken Schaphorst, Chair of Jazz at New England Conservatory, said.

Dr Lawry, who was awarded the prestigious Fulbright Scholarship to study in New York, has become well-known beyond jazz circles for her work with Sting, with whom she has toured and recorded since 2009, and more recently with Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel. In 2013, she featured in the film 20 Feet From Stardom, which chronicled the lives and careers of “the backup singers behind some of the greatest musical legends of the 21st century” and went on to win the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. 

Incoming 2022 program participants:

Freyja Garbett

Freyja Garbett is a professional pianist, composer and music producer who holds a Bachelor of Music from Berklee College of Music where she majored in performance and jazz composition. The pieces from her debut album 'Maya' are an exploration of an electro-acoustic approach to jazz composition and improvisation.

Research project: Freyja’s research uses a waterproof motion detection system to track her movements while surfing ocean waves. The movement will be converted to MIDI (an electronic standard used for the transmission of digitally encoded music) and then used to create new compositions and frameworks for improvised music.

Jess Green

Jess Green’s practice spans 20 years of performance and composition. As a guitarist she has performed with diverse artists including The Catholics, Katie Noonan and Renee Geyer. Jess has released several studio albums and has composed works for theatre, dance and the visual arts, including collaborating with visual artist Patricia Piccinini and The Australian Art Orchestra, and creating site-specific performances, including for the 2022 Sydney Festival.

Research project: Jess’ research concerns emerging theories in cognitive science and natural world phenomena as they relate to music-making. She aims to create a body of work that is illuminated with the wonder of our planet.

Tamara Murphy

Tamara Murphy is a bassist and composer who works across multiple genres. She performs with some of Australia’s finest artists including Kate Miller-Heidke, Harry Angus, Clio, Ali McGregor, Stephen Magnusson and Paul Grabowsky and has appeared on over 40 albums. She won the 2011 PBS Young Elder of Jazz Commission and was shortlisted in 2019 for Music Victoria Awards (Best Jazz Album) and National Live Music Awards (Best Jazz Act). Her band Spirograph Studies just released their second album ‘Lowlights’ in October 2021.

Research project: Tamara's research focuses on the function and development of group co-ordination in contemporary improvised music. She will explore how musicians negotiate their roles and function cognitively whilst performing and simultaneously responding to other musicians in the ensemble.

Gian Slater

Gian is a vocalist and composer with an approach that incorporates wordless singing and improvisation, songwriting, electronics and extended vocal techniques, new music and contemporary composition and collaborations with theatre and dance practitioners. She has released eight albums and has featured on many recordings for acclaimed Australian and international artists. Gian formed her vocal ensemble, Invenio Singers in 2010 and has collaborated with Barney McAll, Lior, Chamber Made Opera, Robert Jarvis, Rubiks Collective, Linda Oh, Alpha60 and Rawcus Theatre Company.  

Research project: Gian is creating a pattern-based method of understanding and composing music, inspired by Steve Reich’s “Tehillim”. Her research explores the partnership between rhythm and harmony and how they define structure and form.

Declaration: Partial funding for this program is provided by a donation from the Anthony and Sharon Lee Foundation.

Sally Quinn

Media Adviser

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