Exploring the Sounds of Black Women in Jazz

From the earliest days of jazz, women have been key players both onstage and off. But women in jazz, and African American women in particular, have faced discrimination and hostility in pursuit of their art. From all-female bands of the swing era to band leaders and arrangers to experimental jazz, women have navigated racism and sexism to make tremendous musical contributions.

In 2001, the Smithsonian Institution designated April as Jazz Appreciation Month, a time to celebrate the extraordinary heritage and history of jazz. This year’s Featured Artist is pianist, singer, songwriter, storyteller and civil rights activist Nina Simone.

Log in to Jazz Music Library this month to hear the sounds of women in jazz, and take some time to appreciate this uniquely American art form. Jazz Music Library is a streaming audio collection of thousands of jazz artists, ensembles, albums and genres from leading labels, including Concord, Verve, Jazzology, Prestige, Universal, Warner and more.

To get you started, here are some albums from just a few of the many outstanding Black women in jazz!

  • Nina Simone’s powerful voice is on display in The Best of Nina Simone, a compilation of tracks recorded on Philips in the 60s.
  • Mary Lou Williams, composer and arranger of hundreds of jazz compositions, dazzles on solo piano on Solo Recital (Montreaux Jazz Festival 1978) recorded near the end of her life.
  • Trumpeter Clora Bryant does double-duty on both horn and vocals on …Gal with a Horn.
  • Alice Coltrane is one of the few harpists in jazz history, and her playing is featured on A Monastic Trio, an avant-garde album of original compositions.
  • Pianist Dorothy Donegan seamlessly moves between stride, bebop, boogie-woogie and classical in this exciting live session, Live at the 1990 Floating Jazz Festival.
  • Abbey Lincoln’s moving and emotional singing on Abbey is Blue speaks to the early civil rights era.
  • Shirley Scott’s soulful, melodic Hammond B-3 playing is featured on Talkin’ Verve.
  • Jazz violinist Regina Carter’s virtuosic playing is featured on Motor City Moments, a collection of songs by some of Detroit’s best songwriters, as well as a few originals.
  • Although Hazel Scott is also known for swinging classics, Relaxed Piano Moods showcases her warm, intimate piano playing.
  • Maxine Sullivan’s cool, stylish vocals are on display on Maxine, including her signature swing version of “Loch Lomond.”

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