A New Ensemble Highlights the Women (Almost) Written Out of Jazz History


From KQED.org by Claudia Escobar:

In the early 1990s, the late trombonist-arranger Melba Liston lived with her three aunts in a stately, old home in Los Angeles’ West Adams neighborhood. Though she had recently suffered a stroke, she was in the midst of creating some of her most vivid work for pianist-composer and fellow NEA Jazz Master Randy Weston, a collaborator of hers since the ’50s. As the only female horn player to tour and record with some of the era’s definitive jazz orchestras, Liston had plenty of stories to tell when I visited her during those years.

She described repeated rapes on the road by fellow musicians with matter-of-fact sadness. She also remembered the support of one of her primary champions, trumpet legend Dizzy Gillespie.

Liston had made her mark on the L.A. jazz scene in the mid-1940s, playing and arranging for Gerald Wilson’s innovative big bands. When Gillespie brought her into his short-lived bebop orchestra at the end of that decade, some of the men grumbled loudly about a woman joining the band, asking, “Who’s this bitch?”

Gillespie ignored them and asked Liston to pass out an arrangement she’d written for the band. He counted it off and, within a few measures, it turned into a train wreck, with the top-shelf players confounded by her intricate writing. “Now who’s the bitch?” Gillespie cackled.

Read the rest of the article KQED.org

Categories: Music History, Women's History

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