Lissa McCarty has been playing jazz music since elementary school. However, she’s always noticed one thing: “I’ve never seen a big band with an equal amount of young men and women,” the piano player said.
McCarty is one of two female members of Clark’s jazz band. The other is Ariana Peters.
Peters, who plays third trombone, said the lack of women in jazz is something that’s been there “forever.”
“I started playing in an ensemble in the fifth grade,” she said. “I was the only female trombone player.”
Richard Inouye, director of Clark’s bands, said that he has taught at Clark for 11 years and is still baffled by the lack of women auditioning for jazz.
“I’ve never figured out why I couldn’t get more females to audition for jazz ensemble here,” he said. “I don’t know why it’s still a male-oriented business.”
McCarty said she believes the reason is that jazz is perceived as “very masculine.” However, she said that she always felt respected at Clark.
“From society, you look from the outside in and you see it as women being discriminated against, because there aren’t many,” she said. “But when you’re in the group, I think it’s interesting at least here to be held to the same accountability as the men in the group.”
Peters thinks that the way certain instruments are perceived may have something to do with why there are so few women in jazz.
“I think there are sometimes certain stereotypes around certain instruments,” she said. “A lot of females are expected to play flute or maybe clarinet.”
She said she remembers one time she was “shocked but delighted” to see a girl playing a tuba.
“I was like ‘wow, you never see girls playing tuba,’” she said.
Even though there aren’t many women playing jazz now, McCarty believes that will change if young girls have someone to inspire them.
“I think in the next 10 years we’re going to see a shift,” she said. “You’re not gonna do something if you don’t have a role model to look up to, especially if it’s not an instrument that is considered feminine.”
Peters said she looks up to Patrice Rushen, an American jazz pianist.
“She’s my idol,” she said. “When I learned about her I was like, ‘man if I ever go into music I wanna be like her.’”
Peters said that representation matters and can inspire people to try out.
“If people don’t see it, they can’t believe it,” she said. “See it to believe it and then you can achieve it.”