Anat Cohen: One of The Sisters of Swing

< Back

Tuesday July 09, 2019

From Vanity Fair

Sisters of Swing

“Half a century ago, the acclaimed music critic George T. Simon said everything you need to know about sexism in jazz: ‘Only God can make a tree, and only men can play good jazz.’ This gender bias has deep roots. Jazz has always been a boys’ club, a macho art form reserved for brash, fast-fingered men living on the road, in cramped quarters, hustling from gig to gig. And despite playing a pioneering role in the integration and the civil rights movement, jazz has had an abysmal record on gender.

The pantheon of jazz giants is overwhelmingly male, comprising musicians who even neophytes know on a first-name basis: Louis and Duke, Dizzy and Miles. Women, meanwhile, have long been celebrated as exceptions. Nothing reinforces this fact better than the Village Vanguard, the legendary club in Manhattan’s West Village, where the photos and posters on the dark-green walls constitute a de facto Jazz Hall of Fame. Amid the dozens of male faces there are exactly seven women: Dorothy Donegan, Dinah Washington, Nina Simone, and Shirley Horn, all pianists and singers; pianist and composer Geri Allen; bebop guitarist Mary Osborne, whose poster hangs in an unenviable spot opposite the ice machine; as well as a poster of experimental guitarist and composer Mary Halvorson, the only woman on this list who is still alive. ‘I’m so embarrassed to say it, but with female performers at the Vanguard, I barely need two hands to count them,’ admits Deborah Gordon, who since 1989 has been comanaging the club (founded by her father, Max, in 1935, and later run by her mother, Lorraine). ‘It’s so hard being a jazz musician anyway. Why wouldn’t it be harder being a female jazz musician? It’s one more strike.’

Click here to read more