35 Women in Jazz – Woodwind Players

Jane Ira Bloom

Never have there been more prominent women clarinetists, saxophonists, and flutists in jazz that there are today and that trend has been increasing steadily for years. In the 25th annual Jazz Journalists Association Jazz Awards alto player Lakecia Benjamin was the Up and Coming Musician of the Year, Lauren Sevian was the Baritone Saxophonist of the Year, Jane Ira Bloom was the Soprano Saxophonist of the Year, Nicole Mitchell the Flutist of the Year, and Anat Cohen the Clarinetist of the Year. In addition, young tenor saxophonists Roxy Coss and Melissa Aldana have become well-known for their playing and composing. The new world of women jazz woodwind players in this hour of Jazz at 100 Today!

Jane Ira Bloom, Anat Cohen and Lauren Sevian
Jane Ira Bloom has been arguably the dominant jazz soprano saxophonist for the past decade and one of the few players who focus exclusively on the soprano. After recording primarily with pianos in quartets, her 2016 release Early Americans is in a trio with long-time collaborators Mark Helias on bass and Bobby Previte on drums. She makes the most of the threesome, tripling the head with all three players on Singing the Triangle.

Anat Cohen has been just as dominant on the clarinet as Jane Ira Bloom has been on the soprano, since she began to record regularly a decade and a half ago. Although she records in a number of formats and her tentet is highly celebrated, this listener prefers the intimacy of her work in the quartet on the disc Claroscuro. With Jason Lindner on piano, Joe Martin on bass and Daniel Freedman on drums, she shows a broad emotional range from sheer joy to elegiac as in the song As Rosas Nao Falam.

Baritone Saxophonist Lauren Sevian is more recently on the scene. After carrying the sonic bottom of the reed section for the Mingus Big Band, she now has released a pair of discs, the current one in a quartet/quintet entitled Bliss. Paul Rauch writes in AllAboutJazz of the title tune, “Sevian’s composition has a meditative feel to it, her atmospheric bursts of melodic energy relaying a sense of warm contentment. She plays with an emotional sensibility so rarely heard on the baritone.”

Singing The Triangle. Jane Ira Bloom Trio
(Jane Ira Bloom-ss, Mark Helias-b, Bobby Previte-d). From Early Americans. Outline. 2016.
As Rosas Nao Falam. Anat Cohen Quartet
(Anat Cohen-cl, Jason Lindner-p, Joe Martin-b, Daniel Freedman-d). From Claroscuro. Anzic. 2012.
Bliss. Lauren Sevian Quartet
(Lauren Sevian-bs, Robert Rodriguez-p, Christian McBride-b, EJ Strickland-d). From Bliss. Posi-Tone Records. 2018.

Benjamin and Roxy Coss
Alto saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin has been getting a good bit of attention for the past decade, but nothing like the crescendo associated with her 2020 tribute to John and Alice Coltrane, Pursuance: The Coltranes. With a rich cast of players, she channels the spiritual energy of the Coltranes, in what is probably the first project to pay tribute to both of them. In addition to compositions by both, she includes versions of two gospel standards as a gesture to Alice Coltrane, with Walk With Me including lovely work from violinist Regina Carter.

Tenor player Roxy Coss is equal parts jazz player and feminist activist. She founded WIJO (Women in Jazz Organization) in 2017. Her sign at the 2017 Women’s March on Washington read The Future is Female which became the title of her fourth release in 2018. The disc opens with Nevertheless, She Persisted quoting Senator Mitch McConnell’s attempt to silence Senator Elizabeth Warren during the confirmation hearings of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General in 2017.

Walk With Me. Lakecia Benjamin Sextet
(Lakecia Benjamin-as, Sharp Radway-p, Regina Carter-vln, Lonnie Plaxico-b, Reggie Workman-b, Joe Blaxx-d). From Pursuance : The Coltranes. Ropeadope Records. 2020.
Nevertheless, She Persisted. Roxy Coss Quintet
(Roxy Coss-ts/bcl, Miki Yamanaka-p, Alex Wintz-g, Rick Rosato-b, Jimmy Macbride-d). From The Future Is Female. Posi-Tone Records. 2018.

Nicole Mitchell, Melissa Aldana and Lakecia Benjamin
Like Jane Ira Bloom and Anat Cohen, flutist Nicole Mitchell has become the dominant flute voice of this era. She has also played a major role in reinvigorating the venerable Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. With fellow members cellist Tomeka Reid and drummer Mike Reed, she recorded Artifacts, a tribute to the forebears of AACM including founder Steve McCall, whose composition B.K. inspires Mitchell to explore a range of emotions. Hrayr Attarian writes on AllAboutJazz, “Mitchell’s incandescent lines flow as they alternate between cool indigo glow and fiery spontaneous flourishes.”

Another tenor player who demands attention is 32-year old Melissa Aldana, whose fifth release, Visions, is a response to the work of Frida Kahlo. Friedrich Kunzmann wrote, “As opposed to what might be expected from her, due to her being of Chilean descent and the album being largely inspired by the work of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, the compositions here don’t burst of Latin American influence, neither in their rhythmic nor melodic nature, but only subtly incorporate some of those elements. However, the opening title track is everything but subtle, and immediately confronts the listener with the hard-bopping talents at hand. A harmonically as well as rhythmically intricate head is introduced by sax and vibes in unison while piano and drums restlessly stack patterns to lively bass stabs.”

And we will finish with Lakecia Benjamin, again from Pursuance: The Coltranes, and her Middle-Eastern inspired take on Alice Coltrane’s Prema.

B.K. Nicole Mitchell – Tomeka Reid – Mike Reed trio
(Nicole Mitchell-fl, Tomeka Reid-cel, Mike Reed-d). From Artifacts. FPE Records. 2015.
Visions. Melissa Aldana Quintet
(Melissa Aldana-ts, Sam Harris-p/key, Joel Ross-vib, Pablo Menares-b, Tommy Crane-d). From Visions. Motema. 2019.
Prema. Lakecia Benjamin Tentet
(Lakecia Benjamin-as, Gamiel Lyons-fl, Surya Botofasina-p, Brandee Younger-harp, Jarvis Benson-vla, Juliette Jones-vla, Malcolm Parson-cel, Lonnie Plaxico-b, Reggie Workman-b, Darrell Green-d). From Pursuance: The Coltranes. Ropeadope Records. 2020

In the past hour, we’ve heard from several generations of talented, inspired and driven women woodwind players and composers who are remaking jazz in their own image. I believe that never in the history of jazz have we had such a powerful collection of women players. Finally, the music is taking steps toward full gender inclusiveness, and while so much more needs to be done, the steps are in the right direction.

Resources
Sullivan, Mark. (2016, May 14). AllAboutJazz. Jane Ira Bloom: Early Americans. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/early-americans-jane-ira-bloom-outline-review-by-mark-sullivan.php

Bilawsky, Dan. (2012, October 16). AllAboutJazz. Anat Cohen: Claroscuro. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/claroscuro-anat-cohen-anzic-records-review-by-dan-bilawsky.php

Rauch, Paul. (2018, June 5). AllAboutJazz. Lauren Sevian: Bliss. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/bliss-lauren-sevian-posi-tone-records-review-by-paul-rauch.php

Wilson, Jerome. (2020, May 22). AllAboutJazz. Lakecia Benjamin: Pursuance: The Coltranes. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/pursuance-the-coltranes-lakecia-benjamin-ropeadope__27951

Rauch, Paul. (2018, March 23). AllAboutJazz. Roxy Coss: The Future Is Female. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/the-future-is-female-roxy-coss-posi-tone-records-review-by-paul-rauch.php

Attarian, Hrayr. (2015, November 6). AllAboutJazz. Nicole Mitchell/Tomeka Reid/Mike Reed: Artifacts. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/artifacts-nicole-mitchell-482-music-review-by-hrayr-attarian.php

Kunzmann, Friedrich. (2019, July). AllAboutJazz. Melissa Aldana: Visions. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/visions-melissa-aldana-motema-music-review-by-friedrich-kunzmann.php#:~:text=On%20Visions%2C%20sought%20after%20saxophonist,her%20very%20own%20musical%20aesthetic.

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