When you speak to members of the Woman to Woman project it’s impossible not to ask about the role of women in jazz, how a band formed by seven female musicians came together and what message they are trying to get across.
“It’s a question that would never be asked of a man,” says Renee Rosnes, pianist and artistic director of the show. She’s right. But it’s not often - never before in Malaga - that you see an all-woman jazz septet. And that is precisely what they aim to change: “I hope that when [audiences] see a band on stage that happens to be all female they think that it isn’t such a strange thing anymore, that it can be normal and not only normal, but common,” adds Rosnes.
Woman to Woman aims to break barriers and stereotypes this evening, Friday 14th, at the Portón del Jazz festival inAlhaurín de la Torre, a show that sold out some time ago. “Women’s time has come to be a natural part of the jazz genre,” she says.
Renee Rosnes coordinates a team fronted by vocalist Cécile McLorin (Miami, 1989), the winner of a Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album in 2016, an award that turned her into a star, however much she denies this. “I would certainly not call myself a star,” she says.
“For a promoter maybe it’s different, but my life has not changed. I’m not interested in articles about me or interviews, I’m not curious, so I try to isolate myself from that,” adds the singer. So she won’t be reading this article then: “You’ll have to convince me,” she says at the other end of the phone line. But rather than false modesty her reaction is more of “a self confidence issue”.
The rest of the band is formed by clarinetist Anat Cohen, saxophonist Melissa Aldana, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, double bass player Noriko Ueda and drummer Allison Miller. They say their playing is no different from that of a male septet, neither more powerful nor more delicate. “The music speaks for itself and when we perform there is no explanation necessary,” says Rosnes. “Music itself has no gender.”
McLorin agrees: “Musically it’s the same, but I think what I feel is different touring with women is everything that happens backstage. It’s a different environment. There are things you can talk about with a group of women that you don’t necessarily talk about if you’re the only woman in a group of men.”
As a vocalist she is aware that she has come across fewer barriers than a female drummer, for example, but being a woman in this world “can be challenging in terms of not having to apologise for your opinions and things like that”. Not just in music but in society in general.
In Alhaurín she will put her voice to jazz standards. But how does she put her own stamp on them? “It just takes time to figure out what your voice is as a musician. It takes a lot of listening, a lot of trying things out. I’m not so obsessed with being original because I know that I’m building upon stuff that’s already been done,” she explains.
The conversation veers towards something she is obsessed with, flamenco. She admits that she listens to the genre “non-stop” and her current favourite is La Marelu. “Now we’re going to spend an hour [talking],” she says and asks for recommendations. But there’s no time, she has to dress for that night’s concert.