Fighting for Women's Equality

Women in Jazz Call for Inclusion at Lincoln Center

April 30, 2015 | by

Every so often you experience a day that you know will be historic for women and girls in ten years. Like the day the San Francisco Fire Department allowed women to apply to become firefighters. Or the day that Sandra Day O’Connor became the first woman justice on the United States Supreme Court. Like the day the first woman announced that she would run for the office of President of the United States.

You can hear more from our client Ellen Seeling in her live radio interview with Brian Lehrer on WNYC.

Today, I felt that strongly for women and girls in jazz. Last night, some of the country’s best female jazz musicians, led by ERA’s clients at JazzWomen & Girls Advocates, descended upon Lincoln Center in New York City to call for equal opportunities for female jazz musicians. It turns out that in its entire history, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra has never had a permanent woman member. Never. And this isn’t surprising. Unlike symphony orchestras which implemented blind auditions 40 years ago to remedy the dismal representation of women, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra doesn’t conduct any auditions, much less blind ones before a committee. Worse yet, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra hasn’t historically even posted job openings; new members are handpicked.

But times are changing. As a result of our clients’ brave advocacy, Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra has agreed to be more transparent in its hiring of new musicians, and has indicated it will implement job postings, as well as blind auditions.

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The power of blind auditions cannot be understated. Researchers analyzing the use of them in the symphony orchestra context have determined that

"Blind auditions now!"

“Blind auditions now!”

they have a powerful impact, even when the screen is only used for the preliminary round. This step alone makes it 50% more likely that a woman will advance to the finals. And the blind audition has also been demonstrated to be the source of a surge in the number of women being offered positions. Since the 1970’s, the number of women in professional symphony orchestras has skyrocketed – from 5% to 30% in some orchestras today.

Women in jazz cannot boast the same historical success. Indeed, little has changed since blatant sexism of the 1930’s revealed in Judy Chaikin’s stunning documentary “The Girls in the Band.” That is why last night’s rally on the streets in front of Lincoln Center, and the coming changes at the Orchestra, are so historic. Yes, feel free to wave some jazz hands and support our clients’ efforts today, as well as the efforts of our co-counsel, The Liu Law Firm and Outten & Golden. Because just as women refuse to be shut out of the trades, fire departments, or the Oval Office, we will play in professional jazz orchestras at Lincoln Center and elsewhere. 

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