On Mar. 12th, 1987, Congress officially designated March as "Women's History Month". Since that time, 124 women in 84 countries have been Heads of State but, ironically, not in the U.S. But, in 2021, we celebrate this Women's History Month having come the closest with recently elected Vice President Kamala Harris. Of course, American history is often two steps back for every step forward so this may not signal a substantive, longterm change. Still, any progress these days feels monumental.
Jazz has been somewhat ahead of the curve, with substantial, longterm contributions from women throughout its history and continuing even more verdantly in the present day. We dedicate this March 2021 issue to a wide range of female practitioners: tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana (On The Cover), who was the first woman to win the Thelonious Monk competition; pedal steel guitarist Susan Alcorn (Interview); vibraphonist Patricia Brennan (Artist Feature); percussionist Marilyn Mazur (Encore); and pianist Dorothy Donegan (Lest We Forget); plus a special section of CD Reviews (pgs. 12-20), focusing on an international and multigenerational cast of women in jazz.
There is an old couplet: "Man may work from sun to sun / But woman's work is never done." At the time of its writing this referred to menial housework. Now it can be appropriated to mean that there is much to be done and many milestones to reach with plenty of obstacles still littering the path. While Congress was well-intentioned, every month should celebrate the contributions of women in all fields.
On the Cover: MELISSA ALDANA
By Jim Motavalli; photos by Jack Vartoogian
Imagine Chile-born tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana as a racecar driver, hitting her stride on the Mulsanne Straight at the 24 hours of Le Mans, ahead of all the competition, when all of a sudden the red flag comes out. The race is stopped! Something similar to that happened to Aldana when COVID restrictions were imposed. The Berklee graduate and Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition winner (in 2013, when she was 24) was teaching (at the New School), recording (five albums so far) and touring prolifically until last spring. Aldana live-streams at Bar Bayeux Mar. 3rd and Smoke Mar. 12th-13th.
Interview: SUSAN ALCORN
By Tyran Grillo; photo courtesy of the artist
Throughout a career spanning more than four decades, Susan Alcorn has upended expectations of what the pedal steel guitar can do... This set her on a path of deep self-examination and rethinking of musical paradigms, eventually leading to solo performances in which boundaries were a thing of the past. Equally informed by classical, jazz, country, South American protest songs and folk music, Alcorn feeds on the nutrients of the creative spirit to cultivate her own across a woefully misunderstood fretboard. Alcorn live-streams Mar. 3rd at Fire Museum.
Artist Feature: PATRICIA BRENNAN
By John Sharpe; photo courtesy of the the artist
Before everything ground to a halt as the pandemic hit, the presence of vibraphonist Patricia Brennan on the bandstand was a sure indicator of both adventure and quality. She graced outfits as diverse as John Hollenbeck's Large Ensemble, the Anna Webber/Angela Morris Big Band and Michael Formanek's Ensemble Kolossus as well as at the more intimate end of the spectrum with Matt Mitchell's Phalanx Ambassadors and Tomas Fujiwara's Seven Poets Trio. But she's not been idle since, juggling a busy but fulfilling teaching schedule with the release of her leadership debut album Maquishti.
Encore: MARILYN MAZUR
By Anders Griffen
Marilyn Mazur is a unique artist: percussionist, composer, vocalist, dancer and multi-instrumentalist who has pioneered her own path. In a fantastic career spanning almost 50 years, over 200 album credits and numerous awards, she has worked with a variety of artists, including Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Gil Evans, John Tchicai, Jeanne Lee, Irène Schweizer, Lindsay Cooper, Jan Garbarek, Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, Eberhard Weber, Dino Saluzzi and Pierre Dørge's New Jungle Orchestra, among many others.
Lest We Forget: DOROTHY DONEGAN
By Alex Henderson
Dorothy Donegan was never easy to categorize. During her long career, the native Chicagoan pianist performed everything from boogie woogie, swing, blues, bop and stride to European classical music. But whatever she played, Donegan was a virtuoso.
Record Label Spotlight: CARRIER
By Kurt Gottschalk
Categorizing the unclassifiable is a fool's errand, to be sure, one upon which the channels of music production and distribution—marketers and distributors to broadcasters and journalists to merchants and streaming algorithms—largely rely. It's a model that rarely reflects consumer preference and which forces the avoidance of genre to be considered a niche. There are, of course, enterprises resisting the confines of race, region and definition of style. Carrier is one such endeavor.
(this month's performance/streaming venues in parentheses):
Keir Neuringer/Shayna Dulberger/Julius Masri—Dromedaries II Relative Pitch (Roulette)