Hold Your Own JazzGirls Day

Hold Your Own JazzGirls Day

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.

Hold Your Own JazzGirls Day 2

Event Schedule

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.

Hold Your Own JazzGirls Day 3

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

Rebeca Mauleón is an acclaimed pianist, bandleader, educator, author and producer specializing in Afro-Cuban and Latin Jazz music. She has recorded and performed with legends including Tito Puente, Carlos Santana, Steve Winwood, Joe Henderson, Israel López “Cachao” and Mickey Hart. Mauleón is the author and co-editor of the Salsa Guidebook, 101 Montunos, and the Latin Real Book (Sher Music), and is a tenured professor of Latin American music, composition and piano at City College of San Francisco, visiting professor of world music at Mills College, and international clinician specializing in Afro-Caribbean music. She was appointed director of education of SFJAZZ in 2011.

For the past 25 years, tenor saxophonist/pianist/composer Jessica Jones has led a pianoless group, the Jessica Jones Quartet, which features her original music and has released critically acclaimed recordings. She is an active sideman and has worked with Don Cherry, Cecil Taylor and Joseph Jarman. In addition to penning several creative compositional collaborations including an opera, Jones is an innovative jazz educator and consultant, working with children on improvisation, composition, and oral traditions for Jazz at Lincoln Center, Stanford Jazz Workshop, the Vision Festival, Brooklyn Friends School, and others. Currently, Jones is an artistic director for REVA, Inc., a nonprofit created to use creative arts to inspire, educate and heal people and communities. [Photo credit: Frank Stewart]

Sarah Cline is the director of the award-winning Berkeley High School jazz program. A BHS alumna herself, Sarah has directed the program since 2011.Under her leadership several BHS groups have won Downbeat Magazine’s Combo of the Year award. BHS combos have also won multiple awards at both the Mingus Jazz Festival and the Monterey NextGen Festival. Sarah is also a freelance trombonist who plays jazz, Latin, and classical gigs around the San Francisco Bay Area. She’s been a member of several groups including the Montclair Women's Big Band, Azabache, Julio Bravo y su Orquesta Salsabor, and the Farallon Brass Ensemble.

Get the best from SmartMusic

Discover practical music education tips, delivered directly to you!

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. By viewing or browsing our site, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. More Information