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Sunday, December 17, 2017

Open letter by Joëlle Léandre to accuse the organisers of French Jazz Awards for lack of gender diversity and mainstream choices

Les Victoires du jazz are a French annual awards ceremony devoted to Jazz. For the 2017 edition, which took place last month, all the winners were men. Joëlle Léandre, the great French musician, who played around the world with many of the great musicians of jazz and free improvisation, and who coached many young artists, reacts to this all-male podium ... with anger and in her own authentic style. We publish her letter in full, translated from the original French version. 

Dear Sirs, 

No it's not too late or too old yet to write to you
It is true that with social networks everything goes so fast
I could also say that everything is also quickly forgotten
So then, because of that evening, without joking and totally despirited
I refuse to shut up to let bygones be bygones
I accuse
I accuse and I take sole responsibility to write about it
because too much is too much. 
It is a farce (Daniel, a producer, will recognise this)
All these Awards these Prizes these "Victoires du Jazz" or rather the "Defeat of Jazz"
(Joël, a jazz fanzine editor, will recognise this) shock me and make me think.
I'm sorry about the results and I'm sorry about the looks of these 15 penguins united on stage and smiling about their great talents, 
I know several of them, and I have even performed with some
All this makes me question things
How is it possible that there is not one single woman
young or less young in the list of winners of 2017? 
Is this a provocation? Is it a game? 
Is it a I-don't-give-a-damn or I-couldn't-care-less?
What kind of jury was there? 
Are the labels the agents behind all this? 
How is it possible that in the 21st Century again and again not one single woman was nominated? 
What is this charade? What is this masquerade? 
What is this archaism these dusty parlors with powdered wigs? 
Jazz did not stop in 1950. 
Some of us propose provoke shock and make waves and we question ourselves we question forms or structures instruments rhythms and timbres ... and even more than all that we question. 
Jazz has always been about risky and adventurous meetings. What is this kind of mess to see and read these results? 
Do you not think that a woman can think, reflect, compose, create projects, lead bands ... hit the road and present her music everywhere? 
What planet do you live on? 
How do you want a young woman leaving the music academy with or without a degree, wonderfully playing her clarinet her sax her piano, to feel that she can take this adventure further, this curiosity for elsewhere, and to be attracted by another kind of music, more free and more creative and
To be attracted by Jazz (because Jazz has always been a creative music, as for the rest, I won't expand on it ... even if I could)
In short, to love this Music and then to see to read again and again your male results!!
You are totally indifferent to the world. It is shameful. 
I told you I would take the risk on me to write to you. Well, I do. 
You should do the opposite. Get out of your seats and go listen to female musicians, listen and be curious. Instead of remaining stuck in your ancient views, and congregating in a self-congratulatory atmosphere. 
All these little friends. All this little power. 
Yes, I am angry. I am 66 years old and on the road for 41 years, around the globe, with my dear friends, male and female, creating, inventing my Music, ... crying even, shouting ...
Do you think that I called Steve Lacy, Anthony Braxton, George Lewis or Marilyn Crispell or many others to Europe ... or even younger people ... and that we play Mozart or Monteverdi together? 
Stop this! It is all about desire this, to be, to be
Oneself, to create collectively, men and women, women and men
That is the history of Jazz. 
Today, with women too. Don't forget it!!
Don't ever forget them again!! 
They are brilliant, strong, disturbing, full of talent, full of surprises. 
Sometimes laughing, sometimes hard workers. 
A word to the wise. My word to the wise. 

Joëlle Leandre 
December 2017


Anonymous said...

Quelle surprise! A musician working outside the mainstream has been overlooked by the organisers of an annual French music event. Ms Léandre clearly has strong opinions about French cultural politics, but she has not done herself any favours by expressing them in this way.

Bonnie Kane said...

Thank you for your courage, Joelle. My favorite part of your writing is "It is all about desire this, to be, to be Oneself, to create collectively, men and women, women and men..." For that is what it is truly about. Cam you speak? Can you play? Can you express your voice in a way that moves others? One's gender, one's sexual identity, one's race, one's nationality/economic/education, etc, all combine to form the basis of where one starts: a point of view, or perspective. The fields of both standard jazz and experimental musics are growing worldwide, with more and more players of different points of view, and diversity. The active players know this, and consciously live it. The presenters of these big long running festivals need to reflect it...or their festivals will eventually be irrelevant to the living artform and replaced by festivals with more diverse line ups and challenging musics.

Unknown said...

Anonymous you are a coward compared to this courageous woman jazz player. You are gutless as is your thinly veiled threat. Who are you coward? Another white male jazz musician hiding behind his white make privilege. You sir are a small human being.

Colin Green said...

The organisers of festivals know their audiences, and what people like, and sadly, free jazz and experimental music is just not that popular, and never really has been. The audience continues to grow, and there are some dedicated festivals, but it’s unlikely to be able to compete with popular taste. What surprises me is that anyone’s still surprised by any of this, and that they think it will change.

J’accuse? I don’t think comparisons with the Dreyfus affair really help. There’s no conspiracy to suppress improvised music, it’s just that most people don’t care.

Unknown said...

Are the organizers of this Festival programming women who play mainstream jazz?? NO! TThe reason is sexism, plain and simple boys

Dan said...

How could you possibly read that statement as being primarily about the "suppression of improvised music?"

Gahlord Dewald said...

Nopity nopeface Anon, she just demonstrated how awesome she is. Her response is entirely accurate and right on the money. Not only for women, but for all who make and hear music.

Gahlord Dewald said...

Cool story bro but are you saying there’s no women playing school house jazz well enough to even be nominated? Cause if you are then that’s a bucket nopeface for you.

Colin Green said...

Dan, it’s the repeated use of the phrase ‘I accuse’ – J’accuse – which has a particular resonance in French as it’s the name of a famous article by Emile Zola in which he accused the French Government of a conspiracy against Drefyus, a Jewish French soldier, in respect of allegations of spying for the Germans., and of suppressing the truth. It was a scandal that split French Society for many years. Eventually, it was established that Drefyus had been ‘fitted up’, that anti-Semitism was a primary motive, and that there had been a large-scale cover up at a high level. My understanding is that the expression is used in French to suggest more than bad judgment, but something in the nature of a suppressive, conspiratorial activity.

In the present case, I’ve no idea whether the panel which nominated the candidates for awards deliberately excluded women. What I do know is that in other music awards women are frequently nominated, and win. I don’t know of any reason why this particular panel might not have included any women, and I doubt Joëlle Léandre does either – she doesn’t identify anything specific other than the failure to nominate, which is a bit of a circular argument – but it doesn’t follow that because they nominated no women they must have been deliberately excluded due to sex. Possibly it was because there are so few female musicians in jazz. They may be guilty of poor taste or bad judgment, but so far as I can see, the letter doesn’t establish that the nominating panel was sexist. It might be more mundane than that. As Bertrand Russell once observed: ‘Who said that the truth, when found, would be interesting’.

Olivier said...

I strongly disagree with the above comment. For me Joëlle is right on the spot, the nominated (musicians and associated) are a total of 16 men for not one woman. This isn't possible in 2017. There are plenty of talented woman candidates for every for each male nominee. I can't believe the jury wouldn't see a problem there. It's a shame!

Colin Green said...

A small correction, it was not an article but a letter by Zola headed 'J'accuse' that was published on the front page of A national newspaper - a format that Joëlle Léandre has adopted here.

Colin Green said...

Olivier, it sounds like you know more about gender distribution in French jazz than I do. What would be interesting to know is whether the all-male nominations are common with these awards, or if this was a one-off.

Dan said...

I apologize if my earlier comment was a bit salty, but even if you do want to read resonances of Zola in "j'accuse" (which only appears once in her original letter), surely the suppressive, conspiratorial activity is the implication that not a single woman in France made any jazz-related music worth considering for an award, and not that mainstream taste doesn't have the time of day for free jazz.

But even that largely misses the point, in that it suggests that the only way sexism exists in when bad men willfully conspire to exclude women. What irks me is that this seems to be what you suggest, and that absent some damning evidence, the main point of her letter can simply be dismissed. This is an easy thing for comfortable white men like us to do--but it ignores the perspective of literally half of the human population, and what they are trying to tell us. Maybe in this particular case, you are ultimately right, and the truth is mundane. But there's a larger point she's trying to make. Dismiss it if you'd like.

Joëlle, I'm listening.

Olivier said...

To answer you, Colin, I cannot recall of any similar ranking in recent years which completely left aside the 51% minority. I just noticed that Citizen Jazz had released just now its "Etoiles du jazz" prize, which is all women, and am sure this is a way of responding to the other televised prize. Nice move!

Colin Green said...

Dan, a few points by way of reply.

First, according to Stef’s translation ‘I accuse’ appears not once, but twice, on successive lines. I think you now accept that this invokes Zola.

Second, as I read it, there are two grounds of complaint in the letter – that the awards are too mainstream, and that the nominations were sexist. My initial post was primarily addressed to the first point, which had been discussed in the post immediately before mine.

Third, I mentioned a deliberate exclusion of women as the most obvious instance of sexism. I accept however, that sexism can take a number of forms, some subliminal. Establishing that someone has been sexist on that level is a tricky business, but like any such allegation, requires cogent reasoning in any particular case. I don’t think it can be just assumed. My point was that I didn’t know if the nominations had been sexist (and it seems you don’t either – you accept the truth might be mundane) and I didn’t think the letter made out a compelling case. And I fail to see what my race or gender has to do with it. Either my point was a good one or it was bad, but that’s quite independent of such matters.

Fourth, what I did not say is that sexism doesn’t exist. It’s at this point that I’ve had some difficulty following your reasoning. Are you suggesting that because a woman alleges sexism, you must agree as a matter of course, because women represent half the population? Surely, it depends on whether a sufficient case is made out in any particular instance.

Fifth, in so far as Joëlle Léandre is saying that she and other female musicians have been subjected to unfair prejudice, I’m sure she’s right. Sexism exists in all areas of life, but I never suggested otherwise. I was limiting my observations to the nominations which are the subject of the letter. You seem to have misconstrued my remarks and regarded them as having a much wider implication. I choose my words carefully, and they do not.

Colin Green said...

Olivier, I don’t know the figures, but I think it unlikely that 51% of French jazz musicians are women. In other areas of music, that might be right, however. From what you say, these nominations appear to have been a one-off. That might be down to sexism, or it might be a blip. I still don’t know. Sorry. I know it would be easier for me to go with the flow.

Stef said...

Colin, your arguments are the wrong ones. Even if only 5% of jazz musicians are women, this should not exclude them from receiving rewards. This is not about statistics. I am convinced that the 5% of women are more dedicated and make music with more vision and creativity than 50% of the men. This for the simple reason that they are fighting in a different way to earn recognition and to create their own musical voice. It is not enough to have the skills and competences. They need more to make their way in a man's world. It is only by giving them attention and by putting them in the spotlight that more women will follow until everybody with talent will participate in the great world of music. This is not about statistics. It's about encouraging everybody to participate and to develop their talents. This will be good for musicians. This will also be good for listeners who will have a broader base of music to select from. It will be better for art because it will be broader and more imaginative and richer.

Aaron V said...

Great piece but the translation is botched and needs to be redone. Punctuation has been removed and sentences broken up to make it look like it was written in verse (which it wasn’t). Additional words not in the original have been added (she does not say “J’accuse” twice), words are missing (Brötzmann is omitted from the list of names near the end, for instance), paragraph breaks were removed, additional exclamation points have been added (she never uses “!!”). I can’t speak to the actual translation of the words (though I have doubts about translating “À bon entendeur, salut !” as “A word to the wise. My word to the wise.”) but these formal aspects of her writing have been disregarded. This is an important statement that should appear in an English translation that respects the original.

Unknown said...

Stef, right on. You get it, Colin doesn't.

Unknown said...

Aaron, yup! In French, oui!

Colin Green said...

Stef, again, you’ve simply not read what I said and have made a number of assumptions which are incorrect. I never said that women should be excluded from awards, for any reason, only that, if there are fewer women musicians, it would not be surprising if fewer were nominated than men. I didn’t say that this must always be so. Similarly, since most Jazz musicians in France are based in Paris and other major cities, one would expect most of the nominations to come from such locations. But of course, it’s possible that one year that might be an outbreak of musical creativity in Calais. That is the extent of my statistical observations, nothing more.

I follow your comments about encouragement and helping people – who could disagree? – but you’re a bit vague about how this should be done. The implication is that women should be nominated in preference to men to highlight their abilities, and in recognition of their hard work, rather than their musical abilities. If so, I’m afraid I find this a rather patronising attitude to female musicians. I’ve nothing against highlighting and encouraging up-and-coming musicians, but selecting them due to gender seems to me quite wrong. Let me use an example from another area of music. It is my understanding that the Berlin Philharmonic audition potential players from behind a curtain, and have done so for many years, to avoid issues of race or gender arising, and to focus on purely musical ability. At one time the orchestra consisted almost entirely of men (apart from the female harp player) but now it has what seems to be a much better representation between the sexes from a range of nationalities, which simply reflects the way music education has progressed. Music awards such as those run by Gramophone magazine have many female nominees who often win. I see no reason why jazz awards shouldn’t be dealt with on the same basis: complete impartiality.

As to your conviction that the 5% of women are more dedicated and make music with more vision and creativity than 50% of the men, you seem to be a bit of a statistician yourself. I’ve no idea how you’ve come to this conclusion. For my part, I’m afraid I just listen to the music, and haven’t focused on musicians’ gender enough to be able to reach any comparable conclusion.

Colin Green said...

Apologies, I assumed that Stef, being fluent in French, had rendered a correct translation and that the rather odd formatting was in the original.

Unknown said...

In the US, approximately 20-25% of working jazz musicians are women. I'll bet it's higher in Europe. But regardless of the number, we are and always have been ridiculously underrepresented in all aspects of jazz. It doesn't matter why..the sexism is systemic and has been for over a hundred years. That's a fact, and it's time to deal with it. Men bear a responsibility for this gender discrimination, and it's time for them to quit denying its existence, and proceed to fixing it.

Colin Green said...

Ellen, I do get it, it's just that I don't agree on some points, but I acknowledge that even a minor deviation is unacceptable.

Unknown said...

Great Colin, so how about being part of the solution? What can men do? I think it's time for you all to be proactive. You have nothing to lose, and jazz has everything to gain. It's not a zero sum game.

Colin Green said...

So what exactly should I be doing to improve the situation of female jazz musicians? I should make it clear that I have no real influence, power or control over anything at all.

Unknown said...

Well, I bet you could answer that question Colin. And that's what proactive means. The energy and soul searching that goes into answering that question yourself would be a commitment to thinking outside of yourself and helping us. Women aren't so different from men when it comes to building a career or name recognition. Anything you would like someone else to help you with your career is something that you could do for women.

So, what can you do? Think about it...that's part the process you and other will guys need to go through.

Dr. Joan Cartwright said...

Start by supporting organizations that supprt women musicians. and join, donate, buy the music, buy tickets, SUPPORT!

Anonymous said...

She is right to speak up.

Olivier said...

Colin, I was refering to the 51% minority as to women (a feminist appelation from the 70s or earlier?) not to women in jazz. This is a classic case of glass ceiling and I think most of the comments here are sensitive to this. It is a more discrete process than open discrimination but has in the end the same effects. A sensed jury should in my opinion go over the total list of nominees before rendering it public and come to the conclusion that there is a problem in only nominating men and correct this. No only is it untrue that men are better, but there is a real problem in the message that this delivers to the jazz community and even more generally to the audience of this show that knows little about jazz. Almost on the same night, french TV was also chosing it's Miss France, an all woman selection. Think about the message this delivers. Young girls, if you want to be famous, grow tall and skinny and choose a nice fitting bathing suit, do not go into jazz music which isn't for you.

These evaluations are not blind, so the jury with their eyes wide op

Colin Green said...

Olivier, I agree, it doesn’t look good, but I doubt that the choice between beauty pageant and playing jazz is a realistic scenario for most women. Options are usually more complex than that. Of course, it awards are not about musical merit but sending messages, none of my observations apply.

My point was really a very simple one – be wary of drawing conclusions where there might be other explanations, however attractive that conclusion might be. For example: there are currently no female reviewers on this blog and have not been for some time. Would it be right to conclude that it’s sexist? No. Messages have been posted specifically requesting women reviewers, and as far as I’m aware, there have been no positive responses.

And Stef, are you planning on introducing a policy for reviewers that reflects your view that 5% of women are more dedicated and make music with more vision and creativity than 50% of the men? Will your own nominations for albums of the year reflect this? Be proactive.

Anonymous said...

My ideal way of discovering new music has always been 'blindfold', i.e. by hearing it without knowing who is playing it. If female jazz instrumentalists are represented in my record collection (and many are) it is because I happen to like their music. The only French female jazz instrumentalist whose CDs I have is Sophia Domancich, and I have to say that she is the woman I would most expect to feature in these particular awards.

Olivier said...

Sexism is something that is deeply encrusted in the eyes and judgment values of a lot of individuals. That is why for jurys, some signs should tell that they messed up. This case is too old and familiar for one to see it only as the result of odds ratios in statistics.
And reversely, I would say that it's precisely because awards are about musical merit that they send messages. In this case, it almost reads: "stay out". The picture of the sixteen young men carrying their Vs for Victoires, huddling and smiling, is really not my vision the current dynamics in jazz over here. It's retrograd and quite ridiculous.

Colin Green said...

Olivier, you say this case is old and familiar. Previously, you’d said you’d never known any similar ranking in recent years. I can’t reconcile these two observations.

Ann-Sofie said...

Jazz musicians can be extremely conservative and hold on to the past almost desperately and furthermore exclude anyone who is not behaving in the right way and accepting the established set of from the beginning very male rules. Arrogance and ruthless discrimination are part of it.

Anonymous said...

Of possible relevance in the debate: those French awards have always been dedicated to commercial jazz music, nothing else (of the "young-conservatory-trained-rising-star-who-is-featured-in-mainstream-jazz-magazines-thanks-to-his-proficient-publicist" kind). You would probably have a hard time finding much musicians reviewed here who have been honored in this televised setting.

Olivier said...

@Colin, the familiar case is that of the glass ceiling. There has been about 40 years of analyses in the social sciences about the logics involved, in various fields, and there is no exception here.

Anonymous said...

Colin Green, you are still not getting it. This is all about giving women a representative spot just like affirmative action is for minorities. Men and women in traditional jazz are not represented the same way and this is systemic. It means that when you look at a man and a women in traditional jazz they should have the same right to be represented equally but they are not. When you look at a female musician there is a lot of catching up that needs to be done in terms of their rights to a spot representing them in Victoires du Jazz (which by the way is a conservative institution in many ways and this ). In a way you are just ignoring the problem by saying competition should be blind. It is not blind to gender biases. When we look at a female traditional jazz musician, we also look at a history of inequality and more particularly the history of women being not represented among the winners. And as far as the reference to Zola's letter is concerned, it is almost irrelevant. J'accuse! existed before the Dreyfus affair and it does exist now as an expression in French (and I am a native speaker and Professor of French). It is an expression of dissent above all and goes beyond the reference to Zola.

Colin Green said...

I'm not sure anything I've said contradicts what you say, apart from the point about positive discrimination. In respect of music awards, I'm not in favour of that - I'm in favour of race and gender neutrality and assessment on musical merits alone. I'm sceptical that giving special weighting for women is the correct way to go about avoiding gender bias. I can't imagine I'm alone.

A question for you: the blog's annual nominations for the reviewers' albums of the year are due soon. All the nominators are men. Do you think that the reviewers should nominate based on musical merit alone or should they take musicians' gender into account?

On the Zola point, I bow to your superior knowledge.

Anonymous said...

There is no "race and gender neutrality and assessment on musical merits alone". It is naïve to think it is detached from historical and ideological aspects. It reminds me of French "universalist" republicanism which on paper ignores religious, racial and gender differences but let huge inequalities happen in reality according to a certain idea of "Frenchness".

As far as blog's annual nominations go, (I participate in those every year!), you will have to agree that what you call "merit" is not entirely objective. I will be very scared and concerned about this site (which for the most part I love) if no women are among the winners. I also believe that things are very different in terms of women's representation in free jazz. I do believe they are better represented that in conventional jazz. You are asking the wrong question again. It is not simplistically either or. In free jazz and impro, there are more women represented and it is NOT systemic like in traditional jazz where gender inequalities are so obvious. Chapeau! to Joëlle Léandre for raising her concern.

Anonymous said...

This discussion reminds me of a New York Times article from a few weeks back. We have the same challenges in the U.S., of course, when it comes to gaining more recognition for women in jazz. But I thought the article did a nice job of highlighting some of the changes that are definitely underway. At least in avant-garde circles, women like Ingrid Laubrock, Tomeka Reid, Jaimie Branch, etc. are getting their fair share of attention, which is all to the good. Perhaps it's the greater willingness to take chances and think outside accepted paradigms that's allowed more opportunities for women in this part of the jazz world to fare a bit better.

Stef said...

Hi Colin, again, this is not about positive discrimination. I know that all reviewers of this blog are men unfortunately, but our role is to look as broadly as possible. If the winners only included white male Europeans aged 40 to 50, then we have a serious problem. The problem is one of narrow perspective. How does this selection work? How should it work? You make a broad list of potential candidates. You ask every reviewer to prioritise the choice to ten names. You then check among the reviewers what comes out the most frequently, and then you prioritise these subjective appreciations again. If your reviewers have a broad view on what's happening in the jazz/free improv environment, almost by definition your lists will be representative. In the past years, we have never had any difficulty of having men and women, from different nationalities, continents and ethnic backgrounds. Why, because we hope to cover the whole spectrum of what's happening out there. As male reviewers with comparable backgrounds, we have to be conscious at all times of the perspective and bias we might have. The great thing about jazz and especially free jazz, is that the best musical results are orten obtained when you mix all these "diversity" issues. Free jazz is great because everybody participates and performs together across the world, without distinction, welcoming other viewpoints and perspectives, and even cherishing them because they are different and because they open up new perspectives and ways of thinking and playing and interacting. Diversity is wealth. And that's a good thing in this world.

Colin Green said...

I'm not sure you've answered my question, but sought to avoid answering it. Let me give the answer which I think follows from your position. There's no such thing as gender neutrality. It takes place in all men, even if at a subliminal level. Therefore, the blog's reviewers should compensate for this by favouring women to a certain extent (though to what extent I'm not sure).

Alternatively, even if the reviewers are entirely free of gender bias in any form (as I hope they are) women deserve to be given a raised platform to compensate for the lack of coverage elsewhere, and therefore the reviewers should go out of their way to prefer women to men, and thereby provide them with greater and much-deserved exposure. (Again, I'm not sure how far they should go.)

I wonder how the reviewers feel about that?

I agree that musical merit is to a certain extent subjective, but I don't see how that makes any real difference to the point in question.

Colin Green said...

Stef, I think Professor Anon has moved on quite a bit from what you're saying, and is advocating positive discrimination. (From our own email exchange of yesterday, I thought you were too, and considered that special treatment should be afforded to women when it came to music awards, but you might have changed your mind on that.)

It follows from this that the reviewers should be discriminating in favour of women in considering their nominations. I look forward to the lists.

MJG said...

An interesting debate as one would expect from readers of this blog.

Two statements sum it up for me, one addressing the wider societal context whilst the other addresses the individual. I agree with Anonymous at 4.12pm when they state that 'There is no "race and gender neutrality and assessment on musical merits alone"'. Following on from this, Stef says that "As male reviewers with comparable backgrounds, we have to be conscious at all times of the perspective and bias we might have" and not only that but we, as males and not only as reviewers, should be open to the suggestion that we have a perspective and bias solely because of our gender, the degree to which it affects our choices, decisions and generally influences us we may not be fully aware of. It is likely that it may not even be us, as individuals, that can fully identify these biases - the views and opinions of the women with whom we interact may help us here - but we should be questioning this as much as we can. It would seem that the panel that chose the awards certainly did not even begin such self-examination.

As for whether this blog is itself guilty of bias due to its reviewer profile I'll let women who read it make that judgement. I will say that since it's earliest days it has certainly reviewed and highlighted many female musicians' work.

Joelle Leandre has long been a musical hero and I'm not surprised that she chose to address the problem so forthrightly.

Anonymous said...

Colin Green, again, your reasoning is wrong. You do not want to understand that it is not about preferring women over man in absolute terms. Since our choices are subjective, we can "objectively" object to an absence of women among the winners. In other terms, because your choice of winners is subjective why not make sure to have a spot for a woman as well?

Besides, the concept of merit is so shaped by patriarchy and men's world and in so many ways that it becomes dangerous to speak in terms of "blind merit alone.

Musical merit is subjective and it is not a question of having only two choices either favoring women or favoring "blind merit" because there isn't such a thing as "blind merit alone". Even when you listen carefully to an album you received, you always look at the musicians and you know when there are women involved. Positive discrimination is NOT ideal but it is maybe so far a tool to compensate women's history of abuse.

Colin Green said...

Professor Anon, I'm not sure I've followed the details of what you say, so I might not do your points proper justice. And as a favour, can you drop the mantra ‘you do not want to understand’. Surely, it’s conceivable that someone might genuinely have views which differ from yours for reasons other than wilful ignorance.

Your suggestion seems to be that it's simply impossible to assess an album's musical merit without taking account of gender – there’s no such thing as blind merit. All I can say is that's not been my experience. I've frequently listened to albums without knowing the gender of musicians (downloads or via streaming) or in the mistaken belief that a name is of a man rather than a woman, or vice versa, and so far as I can tell, my appreciation of the music has not changed one jot. Of course, the response will probably be that I’m just not conscious of my bias, but it must be there. It would seem that however hard we try, no matter how impartial you try to be, however much you dig the music, a man’s judgment is always going to be infected with a preference for men over women. And how does this theory work when both men and women are performing? Is there some sort of head count, or is the presence of just one woman enough to induce gender bias?

The beauty of such a theory is that almost by definition, it must always be true, and no evidence can rebut it (and by the same token, no evidence can support it). It’s also deeply depressing, and seems to render human beings to not much more than automata, with little, if any, room for free will or responsibility, or instances of individual psychology – is it possible for a particular man to have a preference for female musicians over male, or is that simply ruled out in all cases?

Just over a year ago, I wrote some enthusiastic reviews of albums by Joëlle Léandre. What you seem to be saying is that I was in biased against her, because I’m a man, even if I didn’t know it. My first review for the blog was of one of her solo albums, to which she responded to Stef: ‘Qui est ce Colin Green? C’est magnifique!’. Presumably, your theory applies to women as much as men, so she managed to overcome a gender bias against me, except that according to your theory it would seem she was always biased against me, even if only a little bit.

As you can probably tell, it’s a theory that for a host of reasons I find entirely unpersuasive. Of course, gender bias exists but I do not consider that it can never be avoided and that it must necessarily play a part in assessing musical merit.

In the end, however reluctantly, you still seem to be advocating positive discrimination of some kind, though I can't quite grasp exactly how you think it would work in practice. Maybe that doesn't matter, and it's the thought that counts.

MJG, similarly, if it really is the case that ‘there is no race and gender neutrality and assessment on musical merits alone’ then the above points apply, and even the blog’s reviewers, fine upstanding folk as they are, cannot be excluded. However hard they try, they’re going to be influenced by race and gender, negatively. So far as I can tell, no-one has suggested the blog is actually biased, (I asserted is wasn’t) and why can’t you express a view on the matter? Is it because you’re a man and therefore biased? But presumably, under this theory, women are also biased, so why would their judgment be any more reliable? Basically, everyone’s gender biased, and we’re stuck with it. What a world-view!

Lee said...

I, too, am looking forward to the end-of-year lists. If my ad hoc tracking of emails that have circulated is about right, we will likely rank very highly, for the second year in a row, albums by female artists.

FJ's 2016 top 10 was 50% women or groups led by women. I haven't gone back and looked at our previous lists to do a trend analysis, but in December 2016 I did look at other best-of lists in the States, and the results were terrible. Most had fewer than 5 out of 10, 20, or 50 albums, and many had 0 by women. I intend to do the same this year, and will post what I find on Twitter, as I did last year (for anybody interested, the thread starts here

Earlier this year, after we ranked Anna Högberg at the top of our collective list, I saw several notable reviewers post about her album, having not given it any attention in all of 2016. I think it is clear to see where the idea to listen to her album came from, and I think that strongly contrasts with the idea that we have no influence. We do, to some extent, and our readers, who are primarily buyers of music, have a massive influence with their wallets.

Anonymous said...

To add to the various Anonymouses on here (I am choosing to be so in the interests of gender neutrality!), here is my reply to the Anonymous who stated '...there isn't such a thing as "blind merit alone". Even when you listen carefully to an album you received, you always look at the musicians and you know when there are women involved.'

Actually, it is the easiest thing in the world to invite someone to judge an album on blind merit alone. Take your CD, copy it onto a blank disc after stripping out all the metadata, and send it to a prospective listener with no contextual information whatsoever. Ask them to listen to it in an isolated environment (without any access to any kind of reference material) and to judge it solely on its intrinsic merits as music.

Anonymous said...

To add to the various Anonymouses on here (I am choosing to be so in the interests of gender neutrality!), here is my reply to the Anonymous who stated '...there isn't such a thing as "blind merit alone". Even when you listen carefully to an album you received, you always look at the musicians and you know when there are women involved.'

Actually, it is the easiest thing in the world to invite someone to judge an album on blind merit alone. Take your CD, copy it onto a blank disc after stripping out all the metadata, and send it to a prospective listener with no contextual information whatsoever. Ask them to listen to it in an isolated environment (without any access to any kind of reference material) and to judge it solely on its intrinsic merits as music.

Anonymous said...

There are many albums in these genres where there is some uncertainty whether I want to hear them.... (I mean, there are only so many hours in the day.) If a woman is involved, I take that as a positive incentive. That is not to say I will or won't like the music more or less as a result, but as an incentive to hear. Simple as that.

And why? Because there are so many fewer albums featuring women, and so frankly, it's more likely I'll find something distinct & different. So yes, "positive discrimination" is indeed something I undertake, not only for justice, but for my own intellectual benefit.

Anonymous said...

Yes, in a world of injustice, everyone is stuck with injustice. You cannot simply wave it away because you would prefer justice -- even if this latter is true.

Maybe this fact is uncomfortable. Since when is this music about comfort? Joelle Leandre is quite right to raise exactly this point.

Anonymous said...

'(I mean, there are only so many hours in the day.) If a woman is involved, I take that as a positive incentive.'

That is one way of pre-filtering the range of music you choose to consider exploring. Personally, I have been listening to jazz (and other genres) for a very long time and I have a limited amount of money to spend and a limited amount of space to fill with music recordings. I therefore make sure I take the time to base my listening choices on purely musical criteria and to discriminate between the best and worst efforts of particular musicians that I like.

As it happens, the jazz musician who I rate most highly at the moment is a woman, but I would hate to see her ghettoized into some stupid 'female' awards category. A creative artist is a creative artist and should be judged on the quality of their art. End of!

Anonymous said...

Obviously you cannot base your "listening choices on purely musical criteria" if you have never heard the music. The initial choice to hear the music, provided it is undertaken in good faith, is the most important. The notion of "purely musical criteria" has its own conceptual problems, of course, but it cannot even come into play until one hears the music.

Brenda Hutchinson said...

Really? I think she is wonderful- articulate and passionate and dead on-- Thank you Joëlle!!

RJ said...

Do not engage the troll. Or, perhaps the moderator can hold trollish commentary that delights only in the sound of its own opining?

The letter says what it says. The music we review is what it is. None of it appeals to the tastes of the many.

So it goes.

Ryan said...

Honestly, in my first couple decades of exploring the entire history of jazz - at least all that was recorded on an American record label - I used to ignore European jazz musicians altogether. Heck, I even used to think "why bother with a white musician - they don't have a real 'feel' for the music." (I am white American.) Those were VERY stupid mistakes, and definitely a sign of bias. It wasn't until the last 10-15 years that I started to explore what European jazz musicians have been doing in the past 50 yrs, typically continuing a evolution of the free jazz / avant-garde sound that grew out of the '60s. There was sooo much great stuff there, all fresh and exciting. And that kept me interested in jazz, almost everything I buy these days is on a European label. And that is where I really - really - started hearing so much great stuff from female jazz musicians like Joelle Leandre. Often there are great female American jazz musicians whose majority of discography is on a European label as well. The American record labels simply do NOT support a female jazz musician, despite the fact that many of the Monk Award, etc, winners are young women. I could run through a long list, yes, but ultimately I think the reality is that so much of it is simply NOT the dominant idea of what "jazz" is. Compositions are there, but so much of it is pure improv - more "classical" instruments such as the violin and cello are often included, or the electronic, often labeled as the "effects", "loops", etc, on a recording. The female musicians there are incredible. I think Joelle could be an awesome leader of the idea that the music has simply evolved beyond "jazz" and stop worrying about recognition in this genre. They have something new, fresh and more open to a broad exploration of music/sound.

Stanley Jason Zappa said...

Who gets involved with music to win an "award?"

Like those 5 star recordings in Downbeat--those are the recordings to avoid. (the freejazz blog is of course a different story entirely....)

Everyone knows the system is rigged, and yet day after day, musicians and artists spend precious time announcing (to the system riggers) "the system is rigged!"

Do they have the saying "taking a cop to court" in French?

It will be a happy day when art "awards" are no longer, when the "star rating" system is forgotten, when Artists scrape the shit of capitalist merchandising off their artistic shoes...

Anonymous said...

Person with a vagina here! love this blog. My criticism for this blog is simple. Get more women writing and reviewing. As a woman who is active on the scene as a performer and music fan, my network of women has grown exponentially because I am regularly referred to other women peers who I have not heard of outside my circle. I am continuously surprised by the talent and the fact that I've never heard of some of these women, some of whom become collaborators, mentors, or friends. Musicians that I actively search out to go see perform or buy their record, not because of gender, but because their perspective and take on art is refreshing and new to me. I feel like the more diversity you bring into your circle, the more opportunities will be presented to showcase unheard talent...and by unheard talent, I'm not talking about up and coming musicians, I am talking about artists that have honed their craft and art but never got the equal opportunity that their male peers were they never got the fair representation in review forums or press like their male counterparts. Jazz Right Now has made a sincere effort to bring more women contributors to their blog and I hope this blog will make an active effort to do the same.

Paul said...

@rj, I am a bit baffled by your comment. There is no troll on this post, there is a discussion and some points that are made, missed, or misinterpreted, but it's a discussion. We don't all need to agree with all the points being made. If it were a troll, the moderator would catch it.

promytheus1453 said...

Feminism was the 1st cause to destroy the traditional family, also I see that many women in the past won the price probably this year the 1st prizes was by chance to men. Also the rate of men comparing with women musicians is 80%-20%.
It's obvious that we have to do with a political correct complex....

nejakdivne said...

In the country which brought women freedom hundred years ago, the history is going in reverse now. This happening in a cultural forum (assuming everyone involved is educated and intelligent) makes it even more sad.. So sad.

The ones accepting such prizes are nothing but accomplices.

Elisabeth Schäfer said...

Courageous! Thank you!!!

Aurorarising said...

Nothing wrong with some fervency and passion in the face of the depressing & demoralizing "status quo" of this outcome. Why "anonymous"? Are you one of the judges, perhaps? An awardee? Shame on you for adding insult to injury. Thank you, Maestra Joelle, for your inspiring prose letter. Do not go gentle...!

Aurorarising said...

I agree, the translation is subpar. Joelle is a true poet. Perhaps Anonymous should do themselves a favor and digest her sentiments in the original French before criticizing so harshly.