Women in Jazz have historically been seen principally as singers. However, there were many great women instrumentalists and band leaders in the jazz lexicon. I am going to talk about just three of them who are largely unsung and unremembered. All three of these ladies were successful and well respected in what was largely a man’s world. Their stories have served to inspire me throughout the years. Here are,

Valaida Snow

Valaida was a multi-instrumentalist, having mastered cello, bass, mandolin, clarinet, violin, harp, accordion, bass and saxophone by the age of 15. However, she was principally known as a trumpet player, touring the world from the 1920’s, through the 1940’s. As many black jazz musicians experienced, acceptance abroad was far easier to attain than in the United States. She was highly successful as an entertainer and band leader in the Far East, as well as London and Paris. Unfortunately, Ms Snow was arrested and imprisoned by the Nazis in Denmark, in 1941, and never recovered from that experience. Adding insult to injury, many Americans refused to believe that Ms Snow was imprisoned by the Nazis at all, and tried to minimize her experience. She never came back to her former glory.

Melba Liston

Melba was a trombone player, having begun playing the instrument at the tender age of 7. She was largely self-taught, and by her teen years began playing with many of the greats, beginning with the Gerald Wilson band in 1943, and Dizzy Gillespi’s epic orchestra, in 1948. Throughout her career, she collaborated with so many prominent musicians they are almost too numerous to name, but among them were Dexter Gordon, Randy Weston, Ray Charles, Milt Jackson, Clark Terry, Betty Carter, and many, many others. Melba was known as a pre-eminent arranger and band leader, and her lifetime accomplishments were recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts, in 1987.

Vi Redd

Vi Redd was an alto saxophonist and vocalist, playing in the bebop and hard bop styles, a real novelty for a woman. A prominent member of the Central Avenue jazz scene in Los Angeles, she played as a member of many of the great bands including Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespi, Earl “Fatha” Hines, Gene Ammons and Dexter Gordon, to name a few. Recognized for her beautiful round tone on the saxophone, and sultry phrasings as a vocalist, she was a true phenomenon.

Expand your vision and listening experience, by checking out the work of these ladies. You will not be disappointed.

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