Halynn Blanchard, Chris Icasiano, Evan Woodle, Eugenie Jones, John Bishop, and John Gilbreath photo courtesy of Halynn Blanchard.
Each January, New York City comes alive with Winter JazzFest, Jazz Congress at Lincoln Center, and the Association of Performing Arts Professionals (APAP) conference, described as “the world’s largest performing arts marketplace.” This buzzing week is a reflection and celebration of the global jazz scene: never still and as diverse as the music itself. Halynn Blanchard, Earshot Jazz’s Production Manager, reports back on her week-long immersion into this rich environment.
Earshot Jazz: Describe what the NYC-Seattle connection means to you
Halynn Blanchard: There is a larger dialogue happening among people who own “jazz” as a thread in their identity. We are musicians and artists; seekers and listeners; writers; archivists; educators and students; and visionaries and volunteers. All of us with our toes in jazz could submit a hundred separate reflections on what jazz means, where we see it going, and what its priorities should be. Jazz is a language for society.
Being a representative for Seattle jazz while in New York, I recognize we have our own microcosm here. We are valuable and thriving. We can share our stories and expand our ecosystem. A fairly accessible way to tangibly engage with what is happening in New York City, is to visit and listen.
EJ: Which talk was the most impactful to you and why?
HB: The eloquent NYC guitar mainstay Mark Whitfield was one of the panelists challenged to answer the question of how to pay homage to players you’ve studied and emulated, while discovering and remaining true to your own sound.
Whitfield says he was told “When you start to trust yourself, you’re gonna really play something…You won’t get to the essence of what you can offer as an artist, until you get to the essence of who you are…Often, we get rewarded for plagiarism, in getting from A to B. You have to have confidence to be yourself. Your spirit will start to shine and you’ll be rewarded for the right things. Honor your own thumbprint, your own destiny.”
EJ: Which performance was the most impactful to you and why?
HB: This year’s Winter JazzFest offered a new weekend “marathon” lineup in Brooklyn. The weekend prior, a two-day marathon packed ten Manhattan venues. Centered in Williamsburg, six spaces hosted groups from Keyon Harrold, Wayne Horvitz & Sara Schoenbeck, Mwenso & The Shakes, Kneebody + Mark Guiliana, Sasha Berliner and DJ Quantic. For myself and the bouncing room in the Music Hall of Williamsburg, Brooklyn’s own Phony Ppl stole the show. The fearless five-man band is known for their fun, impossibly engaging shows.
EJ: What else did you learn at Winter JazzFest that you hope to apply to your own practice or community?
HB: Jazz needs women, and not the other way around. One thing that would help is not having just one token woman in a band. The process to outgrow this trend has to be methodical and intentional.
Beloved Seattle multi-instrumentalist Marina Albero contributed to this conversation while attending Jazz Congress after concluding a New York Times-praised run of “Susan” with composer/trumpeter Ahamefule J. Oluo at the Public Theater.
“What I would like for all of us to think about, is how words impact,” says Albero. She recommends changing recurring language to create more positive implications. Choose to keep evolving. Albero poses we turn our “advice” into “insight” and “help” to “support.” Further, she challenges us to find a synonym to use in place of “mistake.”
What else can we do to center women in jazz? Allow women to be in creative spaces without asking permission. Recognize the women that have come before us. When we teach students about great jazz musicians, teach them about great women jazz musicians. And be conscious of intersectionality, especially in our own communities. Black women and women of color will have different experiences than white women.