As in government, the private sector and most everywhere else, gender equity continues to be an issue in jazz. So it's notable that this year's Stanford Jazz Festival (SJF) is bookended by shows at Bing Concert Hall by the dynamic pianist Hiromi (June 24) and the charismatic vocalist Lisa Fischer (Aug. 5). There are also plenty of concerts by women-led groups in between (see below), which is a reflection of the faculty at the related Stanford Jazz Workshop (SJW).
"For a long time, we've been making a conscious effort to include more women on the faculty because there should be," Jim Nadel, SJW and SJF founder and executive and artistic director, said. "There have to be more opportunities for women and girls to get involved in jazz, because the men and boys have been dominating for so long. We want everybody to have equal access."
In order to reach that goal, the Stanford Jazz Workshop 50/50 Vision initiative was launched recently with the plan that faculty representation at various levels will eventually be half male and half female. That's been achieved this year for Giant Steps Day Camp, which serves middle school students with at least a year of music instruction.
Through interviews and conversations since 2015 with female faculty, students and festival artists, the consensus was that SJW participants weren't interested in segregated all-girl bands, combos and classes but rather want more female faculty members and also more girls and young women enrolled throughout.
"I think it's important to have role models and strong women who can play," Nadel said.
Since most of the SJF concerts are programmed around the faculty members who are teaching at different levels, the more women on faculty means the more nights in which they're featured as bandleaders.
Grammy-winner Hiromi isn't teaching at the SJW this summer, but her show is a coup for the SJF, which will be presenting the Bay Area premiere of her new duo project.
She was on a double bill at the Montreal Jazz Festival last summer with the Colombian harpist Edmar Castañeda. "It was my first time listening to him live, and I was just wowed," she recalled, by phone from her home in Brooklyn. "I couldn't believe that all the music was coming out of one man. He was playing a solo set, and I was just blown away by his musicality and dexterity and virtuosity."
The same has been said about Hiromi, whose solo piano concerts are legendary and have left fellow devotees to the 88 keys in awe. Though she's the protégé of Ahmad Jamal, whom she met while attending the Berklee College of Music in Boston, she stylistically seems to match up more with the late, mighty Oscar Peterson.
Castañeda and she exchanged contact information after the Montreal show and later agreed that they might click as a duo. A month later Hiromi was headlining a week at the Blue Note Jazz Club in Manhattan and invited him as her special guest for two of the nights.
"The first time we played together, we just couldn't believe that it was only the first time we played together," she said, with an enthusiastic laugh. "It was just so magical, the chemistry we had together. We felt like it was meant to be, and I started writing songs for this (duo) particularly."
Performing a handful of dates since last month, Hiromi said that they'd play some of her and some of his compositions at Stanford, plus any of the aforementioned new works she's writing specifically for them, as well as some standards. As for playing outside of a traditional section (bass and drums, possibly with piano or guitar) and soloist jazz setting, her and Castañeda's piano and harp duets are more like a dual piano setting where musical duties are passed back and forth, she reckoned.
"The piano just looks like harp when it stands up," she pointed out. "It's a very identical instrumentation, like family. So it's interesting when these two instruments (blend).
"Edmar plays harp as a melodic instrument," she continued. "But at the same time, he uses it percussively. And I do the same. So when one is the pianist or harpist the other can be like the drummer. We take turns. We exchange the roles, I would say."
In terms of featuring remarkable performers such as Hiromi, Nadel remarked that it's all part of the bigger picture: "I think that the more diversity at all levels that you can have in your community, the richer experience it's going to be for everybody, whether listeners, musicians or students."
Freelance writer Yoshi Kato can be emailed at email@example.com
What: The 2017 Stanford Jazz Festival (and Workshop)
Where: Various venues on the Stanford campus
When: June 23 through Aug. 5
Info: Go to Stanford Jazz or call 650-736-0324.
More SJF highlights
In addition to Hiromi and Lisa Fischer's dates, ten other Stanford Jazz Festival (SJF) concert offerings this year are led by or feature women musicians:
Celebrating the Great American Songbook
(2 p.m., July 1, Dinkelspiel Auditorium, $15-$35)
Vocalists Tiffany Austin, Allegra Bandy, Nina Griggs and Madeleine McGlynn celebrate Ella Fitzgerald's centenary.
An Osaka tribute to Jimmy Smith
(8 p.m., July 7, Campbell Recital Hall, $15-$40)
Atsuko Hashimoto is more than up to the task of taking the bench for this program in honor of the late organ great.
Andrea Motis & Scott Hamilton
(8 p.m., July 15, Dinkelspiel Auditorium, $15-$55)
A 22-year old native of Barcelona, trumpeter and vocalist Andrea Motis makes her West Coast debut alongside saxophone veteran Scott Hamilton in a concert that will give attendees future bragging rights for having witnessed history.
Ruth Davies' blues night with special guest Linda Tillery
(7:30 p.m., July 19, Dinkelspiel Auditorium, $15-$45)
Double bassist Ruth Davies' annual Blues Nights have become an anticipated annual SJF tradition. Powerhouse vocalist Linda Tillery is on the bill this year.
Anat Cohen & Choro Aventuroso
(8 p.m., July 22, Dinkelspiel Auditorium, $15-$55)
Hailing from Tel Aviv and now living in Brooklyn, thirtysomething Anat Cohen is one of the most heralded clarinet players of her generation. She initially met up with the members who constitute Choro Aventuroso while travelling and gigging in Brazil, and with them she explores their native musical traditions.
Natalie Cressman & Secret Garden/Sandy Cressman's homage to Brazil
(7:30 p.m., July 24, Campbell Recital Hall, $15-$40)
Who doesn't love a mother (Sandy)-daughter (Natalie) double bill with father/husband/trombonist Jeff Cressman as part of the festivities? Beautiful vocals, plenty of trombone, Brazilian delights and original songs are but a few of the elements in play.
Allison Miller Quartet featuring Anat Cohen
(7:30 p.m., July 26, Dinkelspiel Auditorium, $15-$45)
Whether leading her own groups or drumming with others, Allison Miller always finds herself in creative settings. Singer/songwriters Natalie Merchant, Toshi Reagon and Brandi Carlile have all had the D.C. area native in their rhythm sections, and for this evening Miller is bringing Anat Cohen aboard for woodwinds..
George Cables Trio with Anat Cohen and Ravi Coltrane
(8 p.m. July 31, Dinkelspiel Auditorium, $15-$55)
The heralded pianist leads a special all-star quintet that includes four other bandleaders: drummer Kendrick Scott, double bassist Eric Revis, saxophonist Ravi Coltrane and, again, Anat Cohen.
Guitar night with Camila Meza and Charles Altura
(8 p.m., August 1, Dinkelspiel Auditorium, $15-$55)
Chilean guitarist and vocalist Camila Meza played a SJF guitar night last year with fellow six-stringer Gilad Hekselman. She returns this year to co-headline (and, likely, collaborate for a few numbers) with Danville native and Stanford Jazz Workshop alumnus Charles Altura.
SJW All-Star Jam
(8 p.m., August 4, Dinkelspiel Auditorium, $15-$55)
Stanford Jazz Workshop faculty members, including many listed above, come together in a classic -- and unpredictable -- jam session setting.