Women in Jazz
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Women in Jazz

Musicality, Femininity, Marginalization

Marie Buscatto

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eBook - ePub

Women in Jazz

Musicality, Femininity, Marginalization

Marie Buscatto

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Women in Jazz: Musicality, Femininity, Marginalization examines the invisible discrimination against female musicians in the French jazz world and the ways in which women thrive as professionals despite such conditions. The author shines a light on the paradox for women in jazz: to express oneself in a "feminine" way is to be denigrated for it, yet to behave in a "masculine" manner is to be devalued for a lack of femininity. This masculine world ensures it is more difficult for women to be recognized as jazz musicians than it is for men – even when musicians, critics and audiences are ideologically opposed to discrimination. Female singers are confined by the feminine stereotypes of their profession, while female instrumentalists must comport themselves into traditionally masculine roles. The author explores the academic and professional socializations of these musicians, the musical choice they make and how they are perceived by jazz professionals as a result. First published in French by CNRS Editions in 2007 (and later reissued in paperback in 2018, with the author's postscript that "nothing much has changed"), Women in Jazz: Musicality, Femininity, Marginalization expands the conversation beyond the French border, identifying female jazz musicians as a discriminated minority all around the world.

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Jazz Music

1A Saturated and Hierarchized Professional World

DOI: 10.4324/9781003177555-2
I will here describe the main principles organizing the functioning of the French jazz world in which male and female jazz instrumentalists and singers operate.1 This presentation will help us better explain the gendered segregations to be addressed in the next two parts: a low presence of female instrumentalists and their difficulty staying in the jazz world; and a permanent devaluation of female singers who do not succeed in making a living from their art, even those most appreciated by their colleagues and critics. It will thus shed light on the social processes underlying the “marginalization” of women in the French jazz world.

How to Make a Living from Jazz

Making a living from jazz means entering a very difficult job market. Musicians who wish to enter the jazz world and maintain themselves as jazz professionals are very numerous. They are thus faced with incessant, difficult and risky competition. They have to find and maintain their place in a market – which is small in size, audience and funding – of precarious, saturated and competitive employment. However, the “show business intermittence regime” is at the heart of how this market works (which is small in size, audience and funding ability). Becoming a jazz professional is equivalent for most of them to permanent access to this regime (see box).
The French “show business intermittence regime” (“régime de l’intermittence du spectacle”)
This regime derives from ordinary French law and allows for a relative assimilation of artists to the status of employees despite the multiplicity of short-term contracts and relative independence from employers. Periods of inactivity are eligible for unemployment, which are then considered by the artists I met as part of their income. Even if this regime has been transformed in a more restrictive and exclusive sense in those past years (reduction of the reference period, stricter definition of “artistic” activities that fall within its scope), its operating principles are not yet radically transformed. For a sociological and global analysis of the way this regime has operated over the past forty years, the reader can refer to Menger (2005).
Regardless of its level of reputation, one jazz band, even a very renowned one, almost never allows jazz musicians to live off their music. They therefore have to be leaders of at least one band, often under their own name, and be recruited by other musicians to play alongside them as side(wo)men. A jazz band is in fact organized by a leader who recruits his or her musicians – the side(wo)men-, chooses the repertoire (compositions or arranged standards,2 etc.), finds the gigs, and organizes the recordings and the distribution of the records. When they are called, side(wo)men put themselves at the service of the music proposed by the leader. Musicians thus act in a leading position for a maximum of two or three jazz bands in a year and are recruited as side(wo)men in several bands with various configurations – from the solo concert to the structured big band – whose concerts make up the bulk of their income.3
In order to live from jazz, a musician has to be part of an informal network of affinities that ensures regular cooperation between musicians. These networks allow access to peripheral or undervalued activities – private parties, commercial entertainment, teaching, non-jazz music in particular – more often than to strict valued employment in jazz (jazz concerts and records). However, they are above all built around a relatively watertight stylistic cleavage between traditional jazz (styles that are played predate the bebop area: middle jazz, swing or New Orleans), modern jazz (styles that are played are posterior to bebop: hard bop, neo bop, post-hard bop) and improvised music (located at the frontiers of jazz, contemporary music and world music).4

Precariousness, Flexibility and Permanent Availability for the Youngest

As with actors and actresses (Paradeise, 1998), the average length of time of entry into the jazz labor market is assessed by all as around ten years. To define oneself as a jazz musician mostly implies, throughout this transitional period, to learn one’s trade, to train oneself, to be recognized as a worthy musician, to look for one’s place in this job-tense market. Musicians see it as a period during which there is a parallel construction of their musical technique, choice of a style, and building up of a professional network and reputation in the jazz world. In interviews and in my meetings with these young people, they all talk about immeasurable work that never stops and that forces one to devote oneself totally to music. On and off the job are two sides of the same learning processes, of the same experimental phase, of the same entry process into the jazz music job market.
A first central element that occupies this period is the learning of the trade: learning standards, attending courses in professional schools, doing one’s scales to gain instrumental mastery. It is also about building a serious band with other young and motivated musicians and finding one’s place in a saturated market that is not very favorable to entry by accepting all musical proposals, whether attractive or not.
Playing in the black market and/or under poor remuneration conditions, rehearsing with one’s buddies to learn, canvassing saturated clubs to have one’s band programmed, participating in contests and recording a first disc in difficult conditions are all costly and time-consuming experiences these young people have to go through.
This period is also very busy with social activities in the jazz world. The evenings are often spent with musical buddies, attending various concerts to listen to friends, meeting people, having a good time. Or again, vacations, if any, are usually taken with other musicians before or after training courses, musical trips, festivals, rehearsals, in places lent by family or other friends … As shown by Jean-Louis Fabiani in 1986, young musicians pay a real “entry fee” into the jazz world, which is not “based solely on the evaluation of musical qualities, but also on the body hexis, [the respect of] parade rituals and of a certain number of clues imperceptible to the common man” (Fabiani, 1999 [1986], 234). In schools, at parties or in jam sessions, those young musicians choose each other, give opinions on each other, and accept or refuse certain proposals with regard to both technical and social considerations. This long phase of insertion into the jazz world is both a source of personal tension (am I doing the right thing?, will I make it?, is this my way?) and a full dedication to musical activity (schedules, remuneration, travel, concert locations, etc.). Precariousness and hyper-flexibility characterize this period of insertion in this milieu. It is a question of being available to replace a musician at the last minute, or to play at an unscheduled concert. Difficult working conditions, high precariousness and flexibility don’t leave room for personal projects. These young men (and still rare young women) also consider the birth of a child an impossible reality: it would put a full stop to their musical commitment.
It is during this period that a significant number of these young musicians will withdraw from the jazz world either by radically choosing other activities or moving into peripheral areas of jazz: teaching, composing, studio accompaniment, conducting choirs or large ensembles, peripheral music – French chanson, rock, pop, variety shows, children’s music, cabaret, world music – organization of cultural events, or music therapy.5 Many young apprentice musicians I met in jazz schools, master classes or workshops during my study gradually chose such professional orientations.
Poor working and employment conditions, the little pleasure taken in rubbing shoulders with other jazz musicians or the failure of an integration process that has been underway for at least five years thus justify, in the eyes of the latter, withdrawing from a job market that’s become too difficult and not rewarding enough to live in. Let’s listen, for instance, to what this thirty-something jazz musician has to say in the moment when he “chooses” to disengage himself from the world of jazz:
This musician chose to gradually reorient himself from a life centered on the practice of his instrument in jazz bands to a life focused on composing commercial music. If he finds it less creative and personal, more importantly, he thinks of it as less burdensome on a human level. This artist thus takes his first long holiday without music (more than a week) and without musical buddies. He now rarely goes out in the evening in clubs, has more regular working hours, sees his spouse-employee more often – she got pregnant one month after our interview. He says he chose to leave the jazz world, at least temporarily, tired of running behind gigs and having to always be visible in clubs. When I ask him if he receives calls to work, he answers: No. It’s always through relationships. And here is the problem of visibility. I’m not so much of a night bird. If I went out twice a week, sure … If I were to be seen more often. But hey, it’s a choice.

Expressing Oneself in Jazz: A Marginal Activity for a Majority

Confirmed professional musicians – the ones who either have become part of the “intermittent regime” or have held a regular income related to music for at least a few years and who are over thirty years – try then to maintain their insertion in the main network built up during their years of professional integration. If confronted with break-ups, conflicts, professional difficulties or reorientations that mark out the journey of every jazz musician, they strive to rebuild a new network of affinities within the jazz world. However, a large majority of musicians met during the course of our study hardly see their artistic “vocation”6 fulfilled on a daily basis. They are primarily engaged in peripheral musical activities and in turn experience permanent tensions between their ideals – expressing their vocation by playing their jazz music – and their main activity – doing musical work considered not very personal. The level of renown in the French jazz world is here the main element of identification of these musicians – and under no circumstances their musical style, level of education or instrument. Most musicians are therefore located at the lower and middle rungs of the musical, professional and economic hierarchy of this professional world. They are little recognized by the specialized press, which rarely interviews them and hardly ever reports on their records or concerts, especially when they are over thirty. Some regular colleagues of the same level of reputation seem to (re)know them professionally. Programmers (jazz clubs, festivals, concert halls) book their band exceptionally.
These jazz musicians teach music, accompany other musicians, play music other than jazz (rock, variety, techno or children’s music), accompany training workshops, perform in commercial events or at private parties, or compose commercial music (commercials, songs or cinema tunes). These activities are described by some as interesting, playful and humane, as a lesser evil by others, and as an exhausting grind to be eliminated by a minority. In every case, those activities, even if enjoyed, are experienced as a constraint to the fulfillment of their true music:
I’m canvassing for a famous musician. I do the work press. I needed to work. I’m learning things. He’s a great musician. He’s also great as a human being. It is always related to music. But then again, it’s time that I would prefer to devote to my music … But it’s not possible financially.
(Female singer, thirty-three years old)
I do private parties to make money. It’s rarely at private parties that you have fun. To my question Why?, the instrumentalist replies, We have a better chance to be there to decorate or to make a background music than to be listened to. That’s also part of the music. In clubs or in concerts, a good night is when you feel that something happens between the audience and the music.
(Male instrumentalist, thirty-six years old)
According to these musicians, these musical activities must be limited to a minimum in order to maintain free time and to keep one’s work energy for creation. Some will value a regular and stable job while others prefer an irregular job, but limited to a few days. The arbitrations will be made according to the fees necessary to be part of the “intermittent regime,” to the future prospects for making one’s own music (meeting musicians, access to resources such as a recording and rehearsal studio, “invisible” technical work) and the pleasure that can nevertheless be found there. For instance, a pianist may accept piano bars because they allow him to train, they are little subjected to the demands of the public – often with little attention – and they are always declared and well paid. Another pianist of an equivalent (low) level of reputation refuses all private and commercial concerts, all piano bars, and prefers to accompany the training workshops conducted by a musician with whom he plays in a jazz band. In all cases, it is about finding ways to circumscribe this work as best as possible in time, space and in the personal investment it implies for the individual.
One’s chosen music, one’s “real” music, is the only one in which one can truly express one’s artistic vocation:
This musician in his thirties opposes what he calls his band, in which he says he expresses himself fully, with gypsy jazz, which he regularly plays for financial reasons: After a while you have to find your own style and musical discourse. To my question Fo...

Indice dei contenuti

  1. Cover
  2. Half-Title Page
  3. Series Page
  4. Title Page
  5. Copyright Page
  6. Dedication
  7. Table of Contents
  8. Preface to French Reprint (2018)
  9. Introduction
  10. 1 A Saturated and Hierarchized Professional World
  11. Part One Jazz Singer: Such a “Feminine” Job
  12. Part Two Some “Great Chicks”1
  13. Conclusion
  14. Methodological Appendix
  15. Bibliography
  16. Index
Stili delle citazioni per Women in Jazz

APA 6 Citation

Buscatto, M. (2021). Women in Jazz (1st ed.). Taylor and Francis. Retrieved from https://www.perlego.com/book/3051016/women-in-jazz-musicality-femininity-marginalization-pdf (Original work published 2021)

Chicago Citation

Buscatto, Marie. (2021) 2021. Women in Jazz. 1st ed. Taylor and Francis. https://www.perlego.com/book/3051016/women-in-jazz-musicality-femininity-marginalization-pdf.

Harvard Citation

Buscatto, M. (2021) Women in Jazz. 1st edn. Taylor and Francis. Available at: https://www.perlego.com/book/3051016/women-in-jazz-musicality-femininity-marginalization-pdf (Accessed: 15 October 2022).

MLA 7 Citation

Buscatto, Marie. Women in Jazz. 1st ed. Taylor and Francis, 2021. Web. 15 Oct. 2022.