For today’s interview we welcome Fiona Ross, founder of Women In Jazz Media, a not-for-profit organisation created to help support and create an equal, diverse, safe and healthy Jazz Industry.
WiJM is a team of writers, photographers, painters, musicians, presenters, journalists, producers, editors based around the world.
You’ll find links to learn more and follow them on social media at the end, but first check out Fiona’s comments about the work they’re doing.
What led you to establish the Women In Jazz Media organisation and what are the key goals?
There are many wonderful organisations supporting women in the Jazz industry, created to address the historic gender imbalance and ensure women have an equal voice.
But there does appear to be a lack of focus and support for women who work in the media side – journalists, authors, photographers, presenters etc.
So initially, we wanted to create a community and form a support network for this area of the Jazz world. This very quickly grew into something all encompassing.
We are now a team of fifteen women from all across the world who work in the Jazz industry – writers, journalists, photographers, performers, artists etc – all passionate about achieving a very clear goal: an equal, diverse, safe and healthy Jazz Industry.
We promote and celebrate women who work in Jazz, encourage collaborative thinking and mutual support for a healthy, supportive, diverse Jazz community.
We saw you have a mentoring programme for new female writers; are there any initiatives planned for the coming months?
There are so many areas that we are wanting to support, and we have a large number of projects on the go but here are a few highlights.
Our mentoring programme for new Jazz writers is going really well with several writers having now been published for the first time with more to come.
We have created the new Women in Jazz Media Support Fund, and our first project under this is providing free photo shoots for female artists that are experiencing financial hardship. This is being piloted in London and we are currently working with partners across the world to establish this globally.
We also have our Girls in Jazz Media projects to support and inspire the next generation of Jazz women.
Our first project was with Jazz North where we ran a day of creative writing, photography and podcasting workshops as part of their fantastic Jazz Camp for girls project.
We also now have a partnership The Premises Studio Education programme and are running a four day event in August with some incredible special guests and tutors.
We will be looking to develop these project globally with partners across the world.
We were thrilled to get an email from a parent, only the other day saying that one of the girls was so inspired after our workshop, she now wants to become a journalist.
There’s a lot of focus on establishing a better gender balance in terms of musicians, but less on the industry side. Do you see these two things as interconnected?
This is exactly why we feel the work we do is so important. It is all connected, and we feel we should all be working together as one – we all need each other.
The whole industry needs to be more balanced and diverse.
There are publications that currently have either very few female writers or in some cases none at all. One of our new writers who has just been published, was the first black writer that publication had ever had.
Jazz music is beautifully diverse and yet, it has been white male dominated since its inception and by domination, we mean the people who are in control of who are actually given opportunities and exposure, whether this is a front cover, a review, a booking – all of those elements that are needed to work as an artist in this industry.
Historically, women and people of colour have not been given equal opportunities.
The article ‘Why Women Musicians Are Inferior’ famously published by Downbeat in 1938 is one very clear example of the barriers that were established many years ago.
Things have, of course, changed significantly since then, but we have not moved as far as some people may thing and we are still in a world where there are significant inequalities – educational departments and curricula, festival line ups, editors and magazine owners, award nominations and winners – the list is endless.
It is all connected. If we all worked together, it could be better. Our partnerships with publications and organisations are key to our work in this area.
What advice would you share for women wanting to build a career in the jazz world?
I think one of the most important elements is reaching out to other women and being part of the community.
We have found the power of a female collective, supporting each other, motivating and inspiring each other – it’s a wonderful thing.
The music industry is a challenge and the Jazz industry is in particular, and it’s important to reach out and ask questions that you have rather than wandering around in the dark.
The Jazz community is incredibly supportive and helpful.
Are you in touch with any other organisations around the world of jazz who are working in a similar area to you?
We work with many different partners across the world, with some incredible official partners who all have the same goal – an equal, diverse and healthy Jazz industry.
We currently have sixteen official supporters globally, with the list growing continually – Jazz in Europe, Citizen Jazz, The F List, JazzWise, All About Jazz to name a few.
We have recently partnered with Black Live in Music and the Jazz Times and we are very excited to develop this relationship.
You’ve got two podcast series’ talking to already-established women in jazz media. Can you pick 3 tips that have already been shared here that you feel are particularly relevant or useful?
We have been very fortunate to have had some incredible guests for our podcasts.
Ok, well, Angelika Beener spoke about important issues that resonated with so many:
“Do the work, rise to the occasion as much as you can and then shoot your shot! You’d be surprised who might give you a chance, especially if you are black and especially if you are woman. This is a good time for us to kick in the door”.
Another incredible guest was Céline Peterson. We discussed the problems with artists get paid and the ongoing issue of streaming and lack of revenue for artists, especially in the Jazz industry. Her guidance was:
“I think if you are featuring music and you’re recommending music, especially if you are online, as it’s harder on print, then I always say link the artists’ actual music stores and not their streaming links. A lot of artists now will have their tip links on their social media because they are streaming so often, so if you’re writing about an artist or recommending an artist, put the link right there. Encouraging this new way of contributing”.
One of our focus areas is promoting and supporting music from across the world and our guest and team-member Jiaowei Hu, talked to us about the Jazz scene in China and how we can support it:
“Jazz Music has to be reported to grow, that’s the way. Tell people about Jazz music in China! Building a sense of community domestically and with the western world will help with the popularisation of Jazz in china immensely!’”
It’s great there are organisations like Women In Jazz Media to support people who are keen, but aren’t sure how to get started, but how can the industry ensure there are more and more women motivated to work in jazz in the first place?
I think ultimately, we all want to work in an equal, fair and healthy environment, whatever gender we identify with.
An environment where everyone feels respected and has a voice motivates us all.
While we continually see festival line ups that are not balanced, male dominated front covers on publications and a lack of diversity everywhere we look, it is not going to motivate anyone.
So the answer is quite simple really. If you see it, you believe it can happen.
So let’s see publications that equally feature women and people of colour. Let’s see gender and diverse balanced festival line ups. Let’s read publications with an equal and diverse range of writers. Let’s see inclusive educational environments. We want to be welcomed.
Can you highlight a few ‘women in jazz media’ that readers should be aware of?
Goodness, there are so many!
Jordannah Elizabeth is a wonderful writer and her work is incredibly important. She has recently created the Feminist Jazz Review site which focuses on women, femme and female identified jazz musicians, composers and producers.
Photographer Tatiana Gorilovsky creates beautiful work and is certainly someone people should be aware of. We featured her photography in our special edition International Women’s Day magazine, with her photo of Dee Dee Bridgewater on the cover.
There are many incredible female authors to highlight.
Maria Golia’s book on Ornette Coleman is wonderful and understandably nominated for a Jazz Journalist Association award.
Maxine Gordon is one of our biggest inspirations and role models and she has a new book coming out soon, which we are very excited about.
Producer and Artist Representative Céline Peterson is an absolute force to be reckoned with and certainly a woman to follow.
There are so many! We spend most of our time sharing and promoting incredible women in jazz media, so the best thing is to follow us on social media so you can see!
[Editor’s note: we have since published articles by member Isabel Marquez, including this round up of iconic female trumpet players and a guide to iconic female drummers.
Big thanks to Fiona for taking part in this interview!
You can follow and find out more about Women In Jazz Media here: