STORMY WEATHER: The Music and Lives of a Century of Jazzwomen by Linda Dahl

STORMY WEATHER: The Music and Lives of a Century of Jazzwomen

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A lackluster survey of the once-disregarded achievements of women in jazz--with the droopily organized text too often slipping into little more than an annotated listing. To her credit, Dahl does occasionally turn to the intriguing socio-sexual issues behind the limited role (and limited appreciation) of women in jazz: ""the raunchy, even dangerous atmosphere in which some jazz was and is played; the general lack of encouragement from families and friends, especially in the status-conscious middle classes; the absence of accessible female role models; male reluctance to take women seriously as musicians; and male resistance due to the scarcity of jobs in a highly competitive field."" But the discussion of these issues is too often glib and complacent, substituting mockery of sexism for solid argument; Dahl is too much the feminist cheerleader, too little the musicologist or critic. (""Yes, a woman can play jazz, their music announced. Yes, she can play the trumpet, the saxophone, the drums. She can be free to choose what and how she will play."") And weakest of all are Dahl's musician-by-musician thumbnail sketches--which remain stubbornly superficial and hackneyed, though some chapters (especially the early ones) do offer glimpses of littleknown talents. ""First Ladies of Jazz"" features New Orleans-based pianists from the WW I era--as well as the more familiar presence of Chicago's Lil Hardin Armstrong. Subsequent sections present: the all-female bands of the Twenties and Thirties; the ""Ladies at the Keyboard"" (Mary Lou Williams above all); such taboo-breakers as trumpet-player Valaida Snow and saxophonist L'Ana Webster; the mostly familiar roster of singers--from Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey to the big-band ""canaries"" to Billie and Ella and Sarah and Aretha. And, after a brief chapter on present-day jazz-women, there are interview/profiles of nine active jazz performers (various instruments) and one female manager/producer--very weak specimens of the genre, especially in comparison with Whitney Bailiett's jazz-people profiles. Disappointing overall, then, though valuable as a source of names, facts, and (above all) discographies.

Pub Date: April 30th, 1984
Publisher: Pantheon