By: Estefanía Romero
I invite you to read the other parts of this article:
· Women in Jazz | First Part: The Notion of Inferiority
· Women in Jazz | Third Part: Mexican Jazz Females
Female Jazz Musicians in Mexico
Are There Less Women than Men in Jazz in Mexico?
I added some corrections to the data obtained by Antonio Malacara (2016), this approximation launches that from 705 jazz musicians in Mexico, 638 are men and 67 are women. From these 67 women, 45 are singers, and 22 are instrumentalists (we find piano, counter bass, saxophone, bass, violin, guitar, and percussion players among them). This would mean that there is a 90.49% of men; and a 9.5% of women; in which there is a 6.38% representing singers and a 3.12% of instrumentalists.
To have a wider perspective, I contacted Jesús Rodríguez Alarcón, the Coordinator of the Centro de Estudios de Jazz (JAZZUV), of the Universidad Veracruzana, being so far the most important institution of jazz education in Mexico.
According to Rodríguez, during the year 2020, the total College students were 104, from which 12 are women (11.5%), where 8 are singers and 4 play instruments.
About the Preparatory Level of the period February- July 2020, there was a total of 112 students, including 16 women (14.2%), where two declined, thus having only 8 female singers and 6 female instrumentalist who concluded the semester. For the period September 2020 – January 2021, there were 58 students enrolled, where 12 were women (20.6%) and 2 of them declined, ending a semester with female 6 singers and 4 female instrumentalists.
To add another perspective, the piano player Patricia “Pilla” Piano estimated an amount of female students in the Universidad de Chiapas: “in general, there are few women studying music, in my experience as a professor, I’ve noticed around 10-15% only”.
The Study: Why Are There Less Women Than Men in Jazz, in Mexico?
I analyzed the experiences and perceptions of seven women who belong to the jazz guild in Mexico. They are from different states and have different ages. The objective was to confirm if they observe few women in jazz, in Mexico, and what would be the motives if that were true.
Four out of seven women decided to maintain their anonymity. The rest didn’t have a problem with including their names in this article.
According to the perception of the women interviewed here, in Mexico there is a higher number of men in relation to the amount of women dedicated to jazz, thus confirming, from a qualitative point of view, the numbers indicated above.
The findings are detailed in the following variables.
1. Studies point out that there are is no difference in the musical capacities between men and women, although women are a reduced number in the jazz guild. There seem to be different causes, such as: the prevailing notion of “gendering” the instruments, the tendency of women to be lately acknowledged as professional jazz musicians, the scarcity of promotion for female jazz players in media, the shortfall of women preparation in this field, the constant dependence on the work of men, the shortage of media representation, the fear of nocturnal work, exposure and criticism, the rejection from projects created by men, as well as harassment.
The opinions of two women interviewed coincided with the prevailing notion of gendering the instruments:
It seems to be the traditional trajectory: woman/singer, or piano, flute, violin player. I am always being asked if I’m a singer. That’s how the image of the glamorous female singer on a dress prevails, like in the Golden Era of Cinema (Nathalie Braux, clarinet, composer and saxophone player, 63 years old).
I think it’s about identification… once a male student told me that he struggled when singing, because singing was for fagots. Men do prefer another instrument than voice (Tania Guzmán, instrumentalist and singer, 38 years old)
Ironically, among the errors we find in Malacara’s study (2016, p. 377), he marked Braux out as a singer.
In this sample, the jazz females who are between 25 and 35 old preferred the anonymity, also they didn’t consider that there are gender barriers for women in jazz; meanwhile, the women who belong to generations before (they are 38, 48 and 63 years old, respectively), agreed on using their real names, and they highlighted that there is definitely a bias in the opportunities for women in jazz.
In the question: “Do women have the same opportunities as men, as musicians, in Mexico?”, we got a variety of answers: the ones who considered that there are equal opportunities for men and women were hesitant about the reasons why there is such a reduced number of women in Mexico, so they admitted that there must be circumstances that they ignore; the rest of them just answered “no” to the question. One said:
Yes. I consider that women have equal opportunities. However, I consider that it takes more time for them to be recognized as jazz players (Tania Guzmán, instrumentalist and singer, 38 años).
For questions such as: “Is there an equal number of women and men in the Mexican jazz?”, and “why?”, everyone agreed on the fact that there are much more men than women, and it was established that most of those women are singers. The reasons are the scarcity of promotion for female jazz players in media, the shortfall of women preparation in this field; also, these women usually seem to depend on people who make the arrangements and productions (generally men). It was pointed out that there is not enough representation of jazz women in media to inspire the young girls to get a career as such. Also, the fact of jazz playing being usually a late-night job, tends to be a reason why a women could be afraid to be on it, this is because of all the violence and insecurity in Mexico. There was also mentioned the fear of being exposed:
Girls are afraid to be exposed because the cruelest judgements tend to come from men, who are the majority. This is evident during the jam sessions. That’s how women start to desist and try something else like producing or developing different projects related to jazz (Patricia Reyes, “Pilla”, piano player and educator, 48 years old).
Among the answers to the question: “have you suffered harassment, threats, or any other kind of uncomfortable situation coming from men in the jazz guild?”. There were different revelations. Three women said “no”, three said “yes”, and one of them said “sometimes, nothing terrible, less than in other guilds”. There were interesting testimonies:
No, in general I’ve been around respectful people, although now that I think about it, I’ve been in gatherings or sitting in a table with people from the guild, in which I am the only woman. It is bizarre. Well, yeah… maybe once I was near someone who disparaged my ideas, maybe for being a woman. Or at least that was my perception. (Anonymous)
No. On the opposite. I could say this is a environment in which I feel happy working. (Anonymous).
Yes. And if there are only men in the ensemble, it turns into a hostile place. (Patricia Reyes, “Pilla”, piano player and educator, 48 years old).
In what comes to the question: “Is it easier to be part of the Mexican jazz guild being a woman or a man?”, one of the women said she didn’t have any answer to that, others mentioned that it was difficult for both genders, and the rest commented it was easier being a man:
It is easier like a man, because they don’t get to deal with harassment or disbelief from others in the professional circle. Once you overcome that, there comes your professional development, which speaks for itself. Even though, it is complicated if you’re not fond of marihuana or if you don’t share habits such as, you eventually get segregated. (Anonymous).
Man. I had to develop my own projects to be able to work. Among them, man usually hire a man instrumentalist. The new generation (20 and 30 years old) is very different, maybe because they go to school together, there are more girls, and they keep working together afterwards; sometimes they get to be roomates in other cities. It is better nowadays. (Nathalie Braux, clarinet, composer and saxophone player, 63 years old).
2. There is the notion that women are hired because of their physical appealing.
When I asked, “Do you think the jazz guild in Mexico treats women equally?”, two women mentioned there exists “respect” and “camaraderie”; one of them said that probably the way women are treated varies among cities, but she didn’t mention a specifical case. The rest said “no”, and their explanations were contrasting:
No. Definitely. Most of man can’t stand a woman conducting or being better than them. I’ve found men who try to undermine the dignity of other female partners by speaking negatively about them or by exposing their intimacies with other male partners. It’s horrible. Also, about our image… it is tedious having to look over produced to show your work. Men are never required that to play, they only have to be clean. (Anonymous).
I don’t think so. There are many factors. Most of the guild is leaded by men and the girls who have a beauty standard are the only ones who have managed to stand out in that field, no matter what musical level they get to manage (Patricia Reyes, “Pilla”, piano player and educator, 48 years old).
3. There are more female singers than female instrumentalists; and most of the female jazz singers lack, somehow or even completely, any education on jazz language.
The perceptions of interviewed women coincided with the statistics showing that there are more singers than instrumentalists in the Mexican jazz scenario. Only one of the interviewed denied this, arguing that singers only have more projection (they get most of the contracts and tend to get the media’s attention). Another woman was surprised by acknowledging that in her geographical region was an absence of female jazz instrumentalists:
There is a notable tendency of women being mostly singers, in jazz. I would have loved to create a concert of only women in jazz; however, I realized that women in my region are only singers. I would be fascinating to ask ourselves why. Maybe it is a role easy to designate to women; or maybe they think being a singer “is easier”, when it is, or it should be the same as any other instrument. It may be the case (Anomymous).
The rest of the opinions coincided in the fact that there is a higher number of female jazz singers above the instrumentalists. However, they explained that these singers –most of them– tend to develop insufficient studies and professional preparation. Many of them depend on their physical looks:
Yes. It’s the easy way for some of them, to get all the attention without having any professional background. Unfortunately, many singers are a farce. They call themselves jazz singers just because they interpret a standard or a bad replica of a recorded song. They don’t know about improvisation, which is the soul of jazz. They only make an effort to look good. They work very little to have a good voice, many of them are out of tune and have cero knowledge of basic musical theory (Anonymous).
Yes. I do perceive that most of the female jazz musicians are singers. I don’t know why. I also see that they don’t stand out as another instrument from the ensemble. I think the voice, as usually being the protagonist, should show a high technique level and an advance language as much as the other instruments, which, unfortunately isn’t common (Anonymous).
Yes. There are many aspects. One is that the jazz in Mexico got its image from Hollywood, the jazz from Casablanca, etc. Many times, this is what people expect so other styles are left behind. The image of a singer is important in this vision of elegance and elitism. By doing that, all the sudden they have work in private events. etc. Even if they never had a class on the jazz language (Nathalie Braux, clarinet, composer and saxophone player, 63 years old).
Oh! I think it has been an error to believe that anyone can sing jazz. Mexico has a very reduced number of singers that have the artistic compromise with jazz, but there are some girls in the new generation changing that, you realize by the moment you see them working on the development of their own language (Patricia Reyes, “Pilla”, piano player and educator, 48 years old).
We must take in account that there are women who affirm to be jazz singers, and sell themselves as such, but they aren’t not. They don’t count (Anonymous)
Yes. I consider that a big reason why male musicians mistreat women is just because they are women; male musicians also think singers don’t study enough hours to dominate their instrument, even when singing is also complicated. The thing is that we have singers who don’t want to study scales, arpeggios, intervals, rhythms, reading, etc. (Tania Guzmán, instrumentalist and singer, 38 años).
Today we know it is a myth that women should avoid jazz or relegate themselves to one instrument or another. It has been proven, even from the Neuroscience, that no one plays an instrument better regarding their gender. Even though, Mexican people continue to perpetuate hidden stigmas, which is evident in a society that is capable to generate more male musicians than women in jazz, and more female singers than instrumentalists in this genre.
However, I see plenty men today (all around the world) being singers, pianists and violin players, so I’d like to invite other researchers to take some focus on the evolution of this practice, to discover the reason why more men than women seem to have left gendering behind, whereas most of the women still seem to keep the stereotype going.
In the jazz sphere of my country there are women who feel like they belong to an equality environment, but there are also women who feel the opposite, while there are opinions that there is a late acknowledgement for women to be treated as professional jazz players. Just like Peggy Gilbert felt in the late 30’s, in Mexico today we can also see women who perceive that they need to be “a thousand times more talented” and “to have a thousand times more initiative even to be recognized as the peer of the least successful man”. But, unlike Rio Rito, the women I interviewed never suggested that women have “more qualities” than men.
Diverse opinions were obtained when this study tried to find if the national jazz guild treats man equally to women: while some women mentioned respect and camaraderie, others said that maybe the way women in jazz are treated depends on the city they live; but most insisted on the fact that there’s not an equal treatment.
According to certain comments of the women interviewed, most of men can’t stand a woman directing a project or being better than them; there have been men trying to vulnerate the dignity of their female fellas by speaking negatively about them or by exposing their intimacies with other male partners. There is also certain annoyance from women who claimed having to be more produced (with makeup, special clothes) than men to present themselves in a concert.
Some women consider that belonging to the jazz guild in Mexico is as difficult for women and men; no one considered that it could possibly be easier for a woman. Here we have certain reasons such as women receiving harassment or having to consume marihuana to be part of the circle. Nevertheless, there are also women who think that this is changing over the new generations, possibly because [they explained] men and women share a common ground studying together at the music school or coexisting as roommates, thus maybe we are slowly normalizing that a woman can study music without harassment. It is important to mention that some of the interviewed ladies in this study indicated that they never got any harassment, but the majority considers that it exists, and that it is an extra difficulty for women. Another observation is that those who insisted on harassment as a problem belong to an older generation.
It was found that in many cases women in jazz are not prepared enough or depend too much on those who make musical arrangements or productions (usually men). It was shown that there is not enough representation of women playing jazz to inspire little girls to get a career as such. In many cases, being a jazz musician implies taking night jobs, which can be dangerous for a woman because of all the violence and insecurity in Mexico; also, women fear to be exposed to other musicians’ opinions and criticism, which tend to be cruel. This last point is interesting to me because it is evident that any person developing a performing career is going to be exposed to criticism, which leads me to another question for further research: is it that perhaps women have more difficulties to face criticism than men? And… why? Anyway, the fact is that eventually these women tend to move to activities that don’t involve stage performing, such as producing or other jazz related occupations.
The interviewed signaled the existence of rejection toward women when these try to take part in projects created by men.
For coming studies, it would be engaging to discover if the generalized impression that circles belonging to the jazz guild (media interested on jazz, venues or the bands) tend to give more attention to the female jazz singers above the female instrumentalists, and to enlighten if this is a cause why the numbers on female instrumentalists are very low.
The statistics coincide with the general perception that there are less women than men in the Mexican jazz circle, and that most of the jazz female performers are singers.
It was reported that many singers sell their image as jazz vocalists, but lack a solid education on the jazz language, or are not jazz musicians at all, and the audiences allow this. In my opinion, this is a clear of the almost nil knowledge of jazz in Mexico, and the acquiescent culture that Mexican people have towards musicians. One of the women interviewed here said that our country adopted the Hollywood image of how a singer should be, which makes many women being more worried about their exterior than their musical career. Thus, it is preoccupying that women with a higher standard of physical appeal tend to get more jobs, exposition in media, and acceptance in the jazz guild. This means that in Mexico we must create a dialogue towards equality in the jazz field and find a way to encourage a culture of people who admire the professional and artistic work over the physical appearance.
 My country relies on a shortfall of studies to know the exact number of women that have been part of the jazz scene in a national level. Considering this, I used the book Atlas del Jazz en México, by Antonio Malacara (2016), which contains an appendix naming the characters that are supposedly currently participating on the jazz guild in this country. Malacara never exposes a reason why he chooses those specifical names and my experience as a jazz critic allows me to inquire the causes why Malacara used one name or another and to highlight that even though this writer used a few unquestionable names, he is certainly lacking plenty and missing many more. Moreover, I may accept that his work is the only thing we have as a source so far to get an approximate national number. I counted the names obtained in this book (although I dismissed a few and added some more) and if the numbers are correct, then the results are dramatic.
 I decided not to mention what geographical region this woman is from because if the female number of women dedicated to jazz in Mexico is very small, it would be very obvious to identify her identity, whereas she asked me to remain anonymous- Anyhow, this point highlights that Mexico is a very extense country and that we could find certain peculiarities if we decided to extend this research to specifical regions.
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