Next Generation Women in Jazz Combo


Vai Taya and Olivia McVicker photo courtesy of the artists


The Next Generation Women in Jazz Combo (NGWIJC), founded by Terri Lyne Carrington, is a program through the Monterey Jazz Festival. This year’s program featured an exclusive offering of workshops at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Since 2019, NGWIJC has featured top high school female and non-binary jazz musicians across the country. This year, two out of the six selected performers hail from Bellevue! Earshot Jazz had a chance to sit down with them recently to discuss their journey within jazz, the program itself, and their futures in music.

High school juniors Olivia McVicker (bassist) and Vai Taya (guitarist) met through their participation in the Bellevue College Big Band. “I knew about the program [NGWIJC],” recounts Taya. “I think she [McVicker] was one of the few girls there. So then I thought, ‘We should all audition!’” Through their shared laughter, McVicker added, “And then I did.” With that, McVicker and Taya submitted their audition tapes and essays.

The pair flew to Boston in January to learn more about what it means to be a woman in jazz, as well as audition for Berklee’s summer program (in which they were both offered full scholarships). The two recalled various times in their young careers when they felt unsupported by their peers or judged. But with the NGWIJC, Taya felt positively “locked in,” unburdened from pressure and that “no one needed to prove anything.” Under the tutelage of workshops led by staff and mentors at the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice, NGWIJC became a place of healing and collective growth.

With an unwavering passion for jazz to their core, the two remain unshaken–often in spite of being the youngest person or only girl in the room. Their eyes light up when they speak of the empowering experience it was to play alongside all women–how necessary representation and inclusion are. When asked about women in jazz they look up to or take inspiration from, McVicker cited Linda May Han Oh, a bass player with “interesting rhythmic compositions.” Meanwhile, Taya referenced Erena Terakubo, a saxophonist, who was a guest artist at last year’s Bellevue College Jazz Band Festival. “She’s Japanese and I’m Japanese. And I thought, that could be me? That’s insane,” said Taya. 

Reflecting on their biggest takeaways from the session at Berklee, McVicker shared what it felt like to experience validation and a sense of belonging. “I already knew it was uncommon for girls to be in jazz or that I may be treated differently. But I am kind of the type of person who doesn’t care about that stuff. And that [attitude] was solidified through the program.” Echoing McVicker’s sentiment, Taya went on to add how it’s okay to take space and feel your emotions, “but those emotions cannot come from insecurity.” She also commented on women in the jazz community as a whole and “that whenever you’re playing you’re never really alone. When you’re in a room, and you’re surrounded by men, you’re carrying other girls in the room with you while you’re playing.” Taya paused and added, “I knew that…but I never really saw it.” 

As members of this year’s NGWIJC, Taya and McVicker will be at the 67th Monterey Jazz Festival in September for rehearsals, performances, master classes, and workshops. However, the Monterey Jazz Festival isn’t the only accomplishment under their belt. The two juniors had auditioned for the 16th Annual Charles Mingus Festival and were accepted as the only self-directed combo to compete at The New School in New York City in late February.

NGWIJC had quite the lasting effect on the two young musicians, cementing itself as a pivotal moment in their budding careers. When asked about their future, both are confident they’ll want to pursue higher education in music, specifically in jazz. The future is bright in this next generation.



Posted on

February 29, 2024