Reflections on Winter Jazzfest: Could Seattle Take a Page?


Shirazette Tinnin photo by Bex Wade

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Over the last nineteen years, many have come to know New York’s annual Winter Jazzfest (WJF) as a cue to the shapes jazz will take in the new year. In 2023, the tones are clear: new venues and voices are gaining recognition and female-binary voices are emerging in the forefront through mentorship.

Following an in-person hiatus due to COVID-19 restrictions, the WJF program returned with over 100 groups from several continents. The full festival spanned a week and saw a scope of sold-out performances from Seattle’s Kassa Overall opening for Gilles Peterson at Loisida’s Nublu to recent Grammy-winning “Best New Artist’’ Samara Joy at Greenwich Village’s Le Poisson Rouge, nights honoring the late Jaimie branch and Meghan Stabile of Revive Music, two panels at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, and the long-standing back-to-back “marathon” weekend nights, where seven downtown Manhattan locations host on Friday, then seven in the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn on Saturday.  

A fervent supporter of gender equality, WJF proudly announced their support of Keychange, a European music industry initiative for gender parity back in 2019, when WJF became one of two North American festivals to pledge 50/50 gender-balanced lineups by 2022. “We hope our progress acts as a beacon to inspire other music festivals beyond our jazz community,” writes WJF founder Brice Rosenbloom.

An exciting continuum of WJF’s commitment, this year’s festival launched in a completely packed collaboration with Terri Lyne Carrington who assembled ensembles to perform selections from her recent publication, new STANDARDS Vol. 1, named 2023 Grammy-winning Best Jazz Instrumental Album. The first-of-its-kind songbook features lead sheets by 101 women composers such as Alice Coltrane, Geri Allen, Anat Cohen, Cécile McLorin Salvant, Nubya Garcia, plus compositions from Berklee emerging artists. The material fully ranged as did its list of master performers including Linda May Han Oh, Kris Davis, Mary Halvorson, Helen Sung, Michele Rosewoman, Rashaan Carter, Caroline Davis, and Allison Miller.

Heading off the evening, and the festival for that matter, was Next Jazz Legacy, a new national apprenticeship program for women and non-binary improvisers. This performance celebrated a monumental first year of the program and featured all seven inaugural awardees: Lexi Hamner (vocals/trombone) – mentee of Bobby McFerrin and Tia Fuller; Alexis Lombre (piano/keys) – mentee of Marcus Miller and Georgia Ann Muldrew; Ivanna Cuesta (drums); Keyanna Hutchinson (guitar); Anastassiya Petrova (keys/piano); Loke Risberg (guitar); and, Kalia Vandever (trombone), notably one of the few instrumentalists her age to have a successful career as a touring musician (Harry Styles), sidewoman, and composer with two albums to her name.

The program is a partnership between New Music USA and the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice, where Carrington serves as both founder and artistic director, with support from the Mellon Foundation. “We see nothing but growth on the horizon,” Carrington told DownBeat. “It takes a village and this program allows the ‘village’ to step up and help usher in some fine additions to the next generation of jazz.” 

Back-to-back nights, the stage at City Winery showcased all-star female ensembles. On Friday, Hera, a promising project of Seattle-native Anne Drummond (flute), Endea Owens (bass), Chelsea Baratz (saxophone), Lombre (piano), Shirazette Tinnin (drums), and Andromeda Turre (vocals) shared their downbeat with Earshot Jazz Festival 2022 favorites Esthesis Quartet on the other side of The Village. A once Seattle-staple player and educator, Dawn Clement (piano) with Elsa Nilsson (flute and electronics), Tina Raymond (drums), and Emma Dayhuff (bass) are shaking the preconceptions of traditional instrumentation and releasing their second album as Esthesis Quartet, Time Zones, this March 2023.

Winter Jazzfest’s public commitment to gender parity has created a model for others. Seattle’s history book of female pioneers in jazz is, too, full of many names, from the past to modern day. And yet the disparity remains, from the past to today. I’m led to wonder, what would it take for Seattle to shift as grand? As intentionally?


Posted on

February 24, 2023