Some Sunday Evening Jazz Piano: Jessica Williams

As promised Friday, another in an admittedly small circle of female jazz artists who play an instrument. It has long blown my mind how few women there are in jazz or rock for that matter who are more known for their instrumental skills than their vocal skills.

When I want to feature a female jazz singer I have so many to choose from, when I try to feature a woman instrumentalist I can practically count them on my fingers.

Jazz has become a somewhat neglected art form.  There aren’t the clubs, the days of the major labels are in the past.  Hell many of my favorite artists are long dead.

Artists play house concerts and self distribute their recordings.

This is a form of music that is uniquely American. It grew up in New Orleans, it grew out of the Blues and so many other uniquely American influences.

It was nurtured in Harlem, Chicago, St Louis Los Angeles and all the cities from the east coast to the west coast.

While it is thought of as a Black form of music there were integrated bands having to deal with Jim Crow laws years before say professional base ball was integrated.

Jessica is still around just like Carla Bley, who I featured a couple of weeks ago.

I want people to listen to this music.  If you don’t understand it get the Ken Burns series and listen to Wynton Marsalis explain its origins and development.

Jessica Williams


2 Responses to “Some Sunday Evening Jazz Piano: Jessica Williams”

  1. jjw1138 Says:

    Many years have passed since I’ve seen myself as a part of the “jazz world”. I and it never saw eye to eye on a wide range of things, and, as I grew older and stopped participating in the “universal hang” necessary to “get gigs”, I fell off one map after another. I stopped drinking, gave up smoking. I wrote essays and poetry, I learned Internet protocols including XHTML, and I became healthier, both mentally and physically. At the piano, I played more thoughtfully and deeper than I had ever thought possible. Lacking the “upper body strength of males” (a questionable and inconclusive hypothesis) became a blessing and I see MUSIC as a form of cooperation. Not a form of competition.

    Disconnected from the center of jazz partly by choice and LARGELY by the exclusionary policies of too many of its participants, I followed my own very clear inner muse. I wrote hundreds of pieces and recorded nearly as many discs. I watched (and listened) in muted amazement as poorly equipped, marginally talented technicians became well-known albeit short-lived jazz stars, propelled by the money of investment bankers and bureaucratic administrators who would occasionally decide to make a CD or put on a “JAZZ FEST”, their equivalent of an alcohol-drenched, heterosexist beach-barbeque, replete with scantily-clad groupies and an inner circle of politically-correct participants. Having stopped drinking and smoking so many years ago, I just didn’t “fit in”. The old adage “most deals are cut at the bar” is an unsavory truth, and one I can’t bend to.

    So, when I heard people say, “I hate jazz”, I’d say, “I can’t blame you”, because every time I turned on a jazz radio station, I was very very sorry.

    For awhile, “jazz” was a bad word altogether for me and many other women. The word’s most obvious derivations (jas, jass, jis, jism, jissom) alone are crude and offensive to any thinking person’s sensibility (meta-cultural translations include ‘come, cum, jelly roll, male genital excretion during sexual activity, etc.) and “jazz” came, over the years of this music’s undeniable decline, to represent discrimination, androcentric peer-bonding, male cliques, pornographic back-room banter, and ‘fashionable’, mean-spirited “hipness”. Its pervasive and stubbornly persistent unwelcoming attitude towards women, Jews, gays, and numerous other ethnic or socio-sexual groups had always deeply disturbed me, and I had no time for any kind of prejudice in my life, having played with Philly Joe Jones and having watched him enter venues – where he played his royal music – through their kitchen or rear service entrance. I always went in with him, through whatever door he had to go through. I joined the “Black Musicians Local” in Philadelphia in 1976. I loathe prejudice (it’s a vile, devastating illness), and the “jazz world” allows too much of it to flourish, unchallenged, just beneath the transparent patina of its elitist self-certainty.

    If the jazz industry were Microsoft, Apple would have had a 99-percent market-share years ago.

    [It should be remembered that among certain artistic professions – including but not limited too – painting, sculpting, creative writing (particularly science-fiction), medicine, scientific research, and many other challenging fields, the exclusion of women is the rule rather than the exception.]

    But there is no way an artist can play and love an art form so much and just stop playing it or stop being influenced by the memories of it. It would be baby, bath water, and eighth notes, all at once, into the recycle bin. There are other ways to grow and change besides the amputation of such rich and valued experiences. I have been searching for it for many years now, with some success.

    This is my time… to bring every single talent I have to the table, my time to integrate all of the gifts that I possess, my time to use these gifts in ways that I never thought possible before. I’m a musician, and a pianist, and a composer. I’m also a thinker, a writer, and I love life with a grand passion. Being a THINKER means NOT buying into the hype, NOT accepting the party-line, and NOT allowing what’s in vogue or what’s hot today to influence what we believe or how we achieve our goals. Part of the hype, the party-line, the in-vogue and politically-correct lie that has ruled jazz for way too long has been that women and minorities and white folks are not qualified to play “genuine jazz music.” In 2012, there has been an increase in both the incidence and the virulence of this attitude. The Tea Party embodies the concepts of separateness and the antiquated, Freudian ideation of “biology is destiny”. In their world, I would be burned at a hastily-erected stake.

    In my world, we are all one. My audiences obviously love my Music, and they love Herbie Hancock, and they love David Sanborn, Kenny (G) Gorelick, George Benson, Keith Jarrett, Diana Krall and Miles Davis. “Purist” jazzophiles have trashed them all – and myself – as sell-outs and turncoats. And no one cares. Again asked “is it jazz?” the answer comes easily and with a degree of pride and relief: no one cares.

    The absence of women in our artistic endeavor is a microcosmic view of our male-dominant culture, where 20 men sit on a committee and decide that we as women need TRANSVAGINAL SONOGRAMS. They don’t even know what one IS. I’ve had several, and will say for the record that they are uncomfortable, even painful. And there WILL be a case where a poorly-trained tech will damage a woman’s cervix or cause lacerations and adhesions within the vaginal walls. THIS WILL HAPPEN. Unless we fight back with all our hearts and prevent draconian laws like this from becoming reality.

    In the end, I would advise ANY young woman with dreams and ambitions to follow them with all her heart. Advising children to NOT become the adults they wish themselves to be is not advice I would ever dispense. The battle of our lives is and has been upon us. We win or lose only in our own hearts and souls. And when we fight back, as I and my (same-sex) partner have done for all of the 25 wonderful years we have been together, we see results. Not at the rapidity we expect, but we DO see them. And they are worth every ounce of our determination. WE MOVE SOCIETY FORWARD IN THIS WAY.

    – Jessica J Williams

    • Suzan Says:

      One reason so many of the musical artists I feature are women, who aren’t as well known as the divas is because they break the mold by playing instruments rather than being sex objects who sing.

      As Jessica points out in her wonderful comment discrimination isn’t limited to the field of music.

      I go to art museums where women artists have created a small fraction of the works that hang on the walls. In every museum from the Met to the Getty, the Houston MFA, even mediocre male artists are given prominence over women artists whose work is often dismissed as derivative.

      Movies so often seem to have been shot on another planet where women are at most 20% of the population, never much over thirty, all have fashion model or Playboy Playmate looks

      I read women authors and even in the field of literature women writers are often ghettoized. Male critics pan their works as not having believable male characters while never noticing the opposite flaw in male writers..

      And now the war on women has once again heated up and men are freaking out that Feminism might again burst forth as an active political movement.

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