MADAME JAZZ by Leslie Gourse


Contemporary Women Instrumentalists
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 A major disappointment from a well-known authority on jazz. Gourse (Sassy: The Life of Sarah Vaughan, 1993, etc.) starts with a noble premise: that women are becoming increasingly visible in contemporary jazz, despite lingering prejudice against them as performers, particularly as instrumentalists. However, this hodge- podge, which appears to be assembled from old interviews, barely does justice to the many fine female performers whom Gourse hopes to celebrate. The book is divided into three sections. In the first part, Gourse discusses the general status of women in jazz today, jumping from player to player and anecdote to anecdote, making for at best a jumbled narrative. In part two, she profiles specific players; many of these chapters read like magazine profiles or liner notes, some several years old, with updates tacked on like Post-it notes. The final section is a catalog of women performers, some profiled in the book, some not, serving as a kind of mini- dictionary of jazz players. Despite the book's pro-female stance, Gourse manages to repeat several old myths from the male-dominated jazz press, including such whoppers as ``few women play jazz guitar because it takes such strength to play'' (based on two false assumptions: that women lack strength and that it takes enormous effort to play a modern, amplified guitar). And although Gourse is celebrating women as musicians who can compete head-to-head with men, she insists on describing each performer's physical attractions, as if this were a Miss Jazz America contest (``Men in the audience were particularly charmed by the slender, attractive multi-instrumentalist who could also sing'' is her description of baritone saxophonist Carol Sudhalter; stride pianist Judy Carmichael is described as ``a slender woman with cascades of blonde ringlets and a peaches-and-cream complexion''; even elder stateswoman Marian McPartland is complimented on ``her trim figure''). Gourse fails the very women to whom she is attempting to pay tribute. (32 b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-19-508696-1
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1994


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