Women Fighting Sexism in Jazz Have a Voice. And Now, a Code of Conduct.

Women Fighting Sexism in Jazz Have a Voice. And Now, a Code of Conduct.

Meanwhile, tales of workplace and classroom harassment have continued to pile up in the jazz world since early last year. The young trombonist Kalia Vandever posted an article on Medium in March attesting to her own experiences as an undergraduate at Juilliard and offering some ideas about what ought to be done. Ms. Vandever said that despite being promoted as a poster child for the school, she was one of only two women in Juilliard’s robust jazz program, and often felt stranded. Teachers frequently subjected both her body and her playing to special scrutiny, sometimes making explicitly sexual comments, she said.

“Looking back on my accounts of sexual harassment and misogyny, it’s difficult not to wish I had spoken up in the moment or confronted my peers or teachers directly after the misconduct, but I didn’t have the guidance, knowledge, nor confidence to say something at the time,” she wrote. “It shouldn’t be my responsibility — especially within the classroom — to say something.”

It’s this lack of support that the collective is aiming to confront — both by offering counsel and mentorship, and by codifying expectations for institutions.

We Have Voice’s efforts are not the only of their kind taking place in the jazz world. The Women in Jazz Organization, an advocacy group pushing for gender equity, was founded last year. And at schools like the Berklee College of Music, students and teachers have organized on behalf of survivors of sexual assault and harassment.

Looking broadly at the music industry, it is widely seen as lagging behind even Hollywood on gender equality, and it has no labor body comparable to the Screen Actors Guild — which released its own sexual harassment code of conduct in February — to battle for artists’ interests.

In jazz, power is not as centralized in the hands of corporations, which in turn employ pop producers and control entire creative supply chains. Rather, in the improvised-music business, the most important single entity is the musicians themselves. Beyond that, it is festivals and educational establishments.

We Have Voice hopes many more such institutions will align with its code of conduct.

“We’re not really doing this for the branding, or trying to be part of the one time that this happens in the mainstream,” said Rajna Swaminathan, a collective member. “We’re really trying to do the groundwork and hold institutions accountable.”

Correction: April 30, 2018
An earlier version of this article misidentified the collective member quoted at the end. She is Rajna Swaminathan, not Ganavya Doraiswamy. The article also misstated the date of the round table at the Vision Festival. It is May 24, not May 25.

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