by Juliana Van Amsterdam
I spoke with Amanda Ekery, a talented composer and jazz vocalist, one early morning to discuss her latest album release and her thoughts on sexism in the jazz industry. Ekery was gearing up to celebrate the November 3rd release of Keys with No Purpose, a jazz album that tackles the pervasive culture of sexism in the jazz community. When writing lyrics for the tracks, Ekery drew from her personal experiences, jazz industry exposés, and interviews that she conducted with several young female jazz artists. Ekery is a committed teaching artist, and has held countless female-centric workshops and lectures while on tour or performing at various jazz festivals. In all of her ventures, Ekery places an emphasis on inclusion and collaboration, and incorporates alt rock and improvisational arrangements into her compositions and performances.
Ekery founded the El Paso Jazz Girls program in 2017, a free program for female-identifying students who have an interest in learning more about jazz. The program is taught by female jazz artists and does not feature any particular instruments. Ekery explained that she started El Paso Jazz Girls after discovering that there have only been seven girls in the past decade who qualified for the Texas state jazz ensemble. She believes that every community can benefit from these types of local programs, as they foster a communal desire to see girls explore their passions.
Photo courtesy of Adstrum Media
Ekery believes that now more than ever, the jazz community needs to recognize the issue of systemic sexism in the industry. She described how over time, jazz become highly institutionalized; it is very rare nowadays that a jazz musician has not been trained at a school. Thus, professional prowess is cultivated in a school setting, where women are underrepresented. The result is the production of cookie-cutter musicians, and the effect only snowballs from there. Due to their exposure to additional opportunities and connections, men in the jazz community are able to foster stronger relationships and gain more recognition, than their female counterparts. Ekery’s solution is to hire more female jazz members in ensembles and change the repertoire that is taught to include more works by female musicians. In essence, Ekery’s main focus is talking about these issues and working to increase female visibility within the jazz community.
Ekery decided to increase visibility through her music by making an album devoted to the same issues she has encountered in her career as a female jazz musician. Keys with No Purpose is built on the notion that the “keys” that women acquire in their careers lead nowhere. Dreams and ambitions are fostered, only to be crushed in a mountain of red tape or blocked by the glass ceiling, effectively “locking” the women out of opportunities. While she finds expressing her message through music “artistically fulfilling” on a personal level, Ekery noted that conducting her workshops, lectures, and the El Paso Jazz Girls program led to more direct, measurable progress overall.
So, what’s next? Ekery said she is currently planning a March tour for Keys with No Purpose and will definitely be popping by her old Boston stomping grounds. When not performing, she wants to do more workshops. Additionally, Ekery has high hopes for the expansion of El Paso Jazz Girls in the next year. Whatever her future endeavors may be, Ekery has the passion and creative mind to make it happen. Be on the lookout for this rising jazz star’s next visit to the Boston area in 2019!