JazzGirls Day is an event specifically designed to invite girls and young women into the world of jazz. It includes games, clinics, jam sessions, performances, and panel discussions to help give girls a break from the male dominate jazz world they encounter on all other days. The whole point is to provide role models and a safe space so that girls can consider taking up jazz, and specifically, jazz improvisation.
High-profile examples of JazzGirls Day events include these at SFJazz and Jazz at Lincoln Center. At Berkeley High School we’ve been holding a JazzGirls Day event every March for five years. It’s always held on the Saturday closest to International Women’s Day. The percentage of girls involved in our jazz program has doubled since we began holding this event, increasing from 15% to 30%.
You should hold one, too.
At Berkeley High School our projected budget for the event is $2000 and we’ve found that many foundations are eager to fund this work. Below we’ve provided a timeline to help begin your planning.
– Three Months Out
Hire wonderful female jazz musicians. We hire about a dozen. Our typical instrumentation includes trombone, trumpet, sax, violin, drums, percussion, vocals, two pianos, and three basses.
– One to Two Months Out
Start your public relations campaign. Contact local newspapers, send email announcements to local music teachers, reach out in any ways that work for you. Our event is FREE to all girls ages 10-14, and we’ve had folks drive two hours to participate.
– One Month Out
Get your high school mentors involved. We offer extra credit for participating, and the high schoolers run games, play along with younger students, and perform in the final jam session. Hold a meeting with them two weeks before the event to get their ideas of how to make the event special for the younger students.
You’ll also want to create your schedule and send it to clinicians and mentors. Check out our example schedule below.
1:00 -1:20 Registration and Games
We get parent volunteers to have the girls sign in and give us a photo waiver. As soon as they are registered we shuttle them over to a large area where our high school mentors are running fun games to get everyone feeling comfortable together.
1:20 -1:30 Welcoming Remarks
The leader of the event welcomes everyone and says how glad we are that everyone has chosen to spend their afternoon with us. She shares why the event is important (because women’s voices MATTER)! She also introduces the clinicians and helps the girls choose which improve group to attend.
1:30 – 3:00 Jazz Improv Groups
We have kids self-select their level:
– Beginning = no experience, typically 10-11 years old
– Intermediate = some jazz experience, typically 11-13 years old|
– Advanced = play in a jazz group regularly, typically 12-14 years old
We put our pro or high school keys, bass, and percussionist in each group, as well as a horn player to lead. The groups play jazz tunes from lead sheets, and the focus is on IMPROVISATION. Once again, the crux of our instruction on this day is to encourage girls to improvise.
3:00 – 3:20 Yummy Treats
We have lots of parent volunteers who help with this.
3:20 – 4:00 Panel Discussion
We usually have a local female jazz DJ (Melanie Berzon of KCSM) come to emcee this part, and put women of mixed ages and backgrounds on the panel. This might include older professional players, younger pros, college students, and high school students. Sometimes even middle schoolers participate.
Usually there is a broad opening question, for example, “What is it like to be a woman or girl in jazz?” Then the emcee takes the conversation in whatever direction she is feeling in the moment.
4:00 – 4:35 Clinicians Jam
We let folks know what four tunes we’ll play ahead of time. High-level high school players also perform. The audience sits right next to the performers, on stage, so they feel close to the action and can really feel how jazz gets made.
4:45 – 5:00 Closing Reflections
The girls share something they learned and will take back to their band room.
Now It’s Your Turn!
It’s not too early to start planning for your own JazzGirls event, either next March or any time of year. To help, check out these resources on women in jazz and get started today!
Photo Credit: Scott Chernis