Initiatives like the Jazz Girls Day program help work out the difficulties for women in fields with gender disparity and give opportunities to build community while closing the gender gap.
“Jazz Girls Day is an open invitation to South Carolinians — middle schoolers and high schoolers — to come and spend a day with USC Jazz faculty and learn about jazz,” Colleen Clark, an assistant professor of jazz studies, said. "I wish I had a program like this when I was little."
The Jazz Girls Day program, created by Clark, not only welcomes young women into the field of jazz, but inspires music educators state-wide to encourage young women to play jazz. Columbia held its Jazz Girls Day on Jan. 14, 2023, led by Clark and USC Jazz Faculty members at the USC School of Music and the next one will be held in Charleston on April 22.
It is important to have these opportunities for young women to explore and perform jazz in a way that also builds community. The program does an excellent job strengthening the connections between students, USC jazz faculty and parents.
Jazz Girls Day helps prepare girls for their All-State Jazz auditions as well as offers fun jam sessions and a final performance, letting the participants show off what they learned.
“We are setting the goal for not only kids to be encouraged — girls to be encouraged — to play jazz, but also for educators and leaders,” Clark said. “The main goal is to build community.”
Jazz Girls Day encourages the learning and teaching of jazz, but also builds community and bridges the gender gap in the jazz industry. Clark’s goal of bring together young women in music is important and effective, especially within the Jazz genre.
Since jazz is a historically male-dominated music genre, there tends to be some disparity between men and women in the field. A 2021 study from the European Journal of Cultural Studies states that “the qualitative literature suggests that women are perceived as lacking legitimacy and credibility as musicians within a historically male genre."
This explains that the disparity between women and men in jazz goes back to its origins, which is why the Jazz Girls Day program is so impactful. It gives women in jazz more recognition and opportunities.
Clark’s own experiences as a woman in jazz highlight the importance of bridging the gender gap for young women in the industry.
“It was kind of the norm that I was one of a couple (women) or the only woman in the band,” Clark said. “So many of my students for years told me that I was their first female conductor."
Clark’s initiative aims to inspire students not only in South Carolina, but in other school districts, cities and states across the country. Her vision is to help cohost a USC Jazz Girls Day event in all 50 states by 2030. Clark’s ambition and determination in her Jazz Girls Day vision are evident and provide emphasis on why it's so important to educate and support women in the field of jazz.
Clark’s Jazz Girls Day program should continue to expand and build community while inspiring passion for the jazz industry. The future for women in jazz is important and Clark’s program puts a spotlight on the disparity while repairing it.