Brighton Fringe: Women In Jazz

The Brighton Fringe Festival is opening its doors again to present the largest arts festival in England, and I had the pleasure to sit down and talk with Rebecca Askew, the mind behind the show ‘Women in Jazz’, at The Brunswick, Hove on June 2nd from 19:30-22:00. 

The show revolves around visible and audible portrays of female jazz composers of the twentieth century, featuring a collection of songs from the finest names and stories about life as a woman in a male-driven music industry. 

As Askew, herself said: “It is going to be a gig with visuals and stories, and very great music.”

Putting together a show is never an easy path to take. After spending 20 and more years in the industry singing jazz with her band Askew decided to turn her energy in the last few years on theatre shows that combined a mix of words and music alongside hoping to bring to the stage her experience. 

Before the pandemic happened she had the chance to meet the pianist Victoria Wilson (who plays in the show) who introduced Askew to jazz pianist Marian Mcpartland. 

On how this meeting inspired her Askew said: “ I don’t know if you know but there is this very famous photo of all these jazz musicians taken in 1957 called ‘Great day in Harlem’ and it’s a fantastic picture by Art Kane and there are only 3 women out of this all array of men and one of them is Marian Mcpartland alongside Mary Lou Williams.”

‘That’s where it all came from, I started doing some research and reading some books and the other thing, she was also a journalist, and she wrote lots of articles about jazz alongside being a presenter and doing lots of programmes for NPR, like the one called Radio Jazz where every week she would interview someone new.”

“It is all online, it is such a great resource. It is brilliant. Hearing some of those stories about those women’s lives was such a no-brainer, they all worked so hard and were well known in their day, but then they got lost in the midsts of time.” 

Women always had to work harder to leave a statement in the industry, hoping for their impact to last through time. 

When asked what kind of impact she would like to leave on the audience coming to see her show Aksew excitedly said: “I want them to go home and do some research for the sounds, to go home and google the women I am talking about, to find out which of their music they like.”

“I would like people to feel inspired and also slightly cheated by historians, they should not trust what they are told. The women were in the minority sure, but they were there.” 

Jazz is a genre that is also being rediscovered and appreciated by younger generations, that sometimes regret not experiencing music as it was back in the day, by going to the record shop after saving up money and running home to listen, without knowing whether it would be a hit or miss.

The world of music has always been male-driven and having worked in the industry for more than 20 years, Askew regarding specific things that happened in her career

sometimes  thought: “God, that would never happen to a man.”  

 “It is something you would find in any sort of freelance occupations you are trying to pursue, but at the end of the day, you just want to work and nothing more.” 

“We live in a patriarchy where they are in control and most of them don’t even realize it.” 

So to say, chatting to Rebecca Askew was inspiring and illuminating in so many ways.

If you want to support the history of female composers in jazz and help them not to be left in the footnotes of a story full of incredible performers, I suggest you show up and enjoy this amazing night filled with the notes of the best female jazz performers.

Words by Federica Purcaro

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