Where are the Ladies?
I’ve been on a personal campaign for several months focusing on one subject in particular but not limited to that one subject exclusively. It’s a common topic of discussion that I have with my students and friends which concerns an issue that plagues the music, not necessarily from the perspective of the performers (but then, again, perhaps it does…) and sometimes influences the choices that the musicians make in performance and programming. However, unlike many issues that are of importance to the music community at large, this one has a simple and clear solution.
On a few occasions, I’ve openly vented from the bandstand at a few of my shows about how difficult it sometimes can be for me and my mostly male band to play for rooms that are exclusively populated by males. One of the most startling images that I’ve ever had while performing was one time when I was playing a ballad, attempting my best to be tender, honest and emotive – only to finish my solo, open my eyes to witness a room full of beards, hairy legs, unclipped toenails and several pairs of old-ass Birkenstocks and sandals worn by a room full of dudes. With the exception of the wait staff, there wasn’t a single woman to be seen anywhere in the place. The images AND the moment were equal parts startling, horrifying and overwhelmingly discouraging. And, as this had happened so frequently in the past, I felt obligated to take action and address it.
I felt it necessary to end the tune early and picked up the microphone and asked, to no one in particular, “We sincerely appreciate your patronage and support, but does anyone in the house have any females in their lives who would enjoy an evening of live, improvised music? Are there any women in your lives that you could POSSIBLY have asked to accompany yourselves here in an effort to bring some balance to this gender-disppoportionate audience? Perhaps a landlady, Mother, sister, female cousin, bag lady, roomate, friend – with or without benefits, maybe even an EX, ANYONE! We’re trying our best up here, but this boy’s club mentality has to end now! It’s a tall order for anyone to expect us to perform non-testosterone- infused music for a room full of scruffy guys all night”.
In short, I’ve spoken to a number of friends, most of whom are all in accord that the one-sided gender imbalance (where patronage is concerned) is one condition that has helped to prevent the music from moving forward. Many male musicians are hopelessly preoccupied with “flexing and profiling for their boys” instead of engaging in artful storytelling or attempting to reveal the less testosterone-driven aspects of their character. During performances, some musicians proceed as if it is not considerd masculine to be fragile, sensitive or to employ a broader pallette of dynamics in their work. This type of thinking and performing, along with the lack of a strong female presence at concerts, has done a great deal of harm to the general perception of the music at large and is detrimental to it’s image and it’s ability ot be more universally accepted.
So guys, please bring a date. Go Dutch, if necessary. Just bring SOMEONE sometimes other than your “bud”. Of course we have no problem playing for whomever will support us, but our ability to express ourselves would be fully realized if we had the support of both sexes.