Championing Women in Jazz

The themes of this year’s International Women’s Day on 8 March are forging a gender equal world, celebrating women’s achievement, raising awareness against bias and taking action for equality. Our founder Jennie Cashman Wilson caught up with a woman who is doing just that in the jazz world, Nina Fine. Singer songwriter Nina and music events PR, producer and programmer Lou Paley co-founded Women In Jazz and have joined our Career Development Programme this year.

Jennie: Tell us about how you met and why Women In Jazz came about?

Nina: It’s a funny story. Lou and I are actually second cousins. Though we didn’t grow up together, we were frequently told by relatives that we should connect as we both worked in music. Then, in June 2018, I received a message from Lou asking if I was free to meet for coffee to talk about an idea, and that’s when we started talking about Women In Jazz. 

Women In Jazz initially came from a desire to inspire the next generation of female jazz artists to pursue careers in jazz, by increasing the visibility of female jazz artists in a festival dedicated to celebrating women in jazz from across the world. Lou worked in music PR, production and programming jazz festivals for a number of years. One experience in particular stuck with her during her time working with a national youth ensemble. Lou saw that a large proportion of female participants were fantastic instrumentalists. They had received places at some of the top music colleges, yet some had very little or no confidence in their playing to pursue music as a career.  

Since our first conversation Women In Jazz has grown in so many ways from the initial idea, and we are excited and delighted to keep learning through its development.

Jennie: Have there been personal challenges you’ve faced or barriers you’ve encountered that drive Women in Jazz’s determination to tackle the under-representation of women in the genre?

Nina: Really good question! Both of us have experienced situations and challenges, not just in music. But a stronger drive for Women In Jazz and the work we do is from the stories shared by artists we interview on our radio show and the experiences shared by people in our community at workshops, Women In Jazz events and through our socials. The consistency and variety of the stories shared with us highlights the need for Women In Jazz to exist. It is through practical and sustainable action to champion and nurture the abilities, creativity, tenacity and ambition of people in our community that we hope to honour these experiences, and work collaboratively with partners to create healthy and sustainable change. 

Jennie: What have been your proudest achievements so far?

Nina: This is a wonderful question because so often, when you are building a project, it is easy to think ‘ok, good, we achieved that, what next?’ so to reflect on our proudest moments is something I have enjoyed thinking about right now. 

A real highlight for me was watching our workshop participants who had never touched radio or DJ equipment present/record their own radio showreels and perform a live DJ set to the group. Seeing each person build in confidence or self-belief and surpass their expectations was total magic! Another huge highlight for me was interviewing Tank from Tank and the Bangas at Love Supreme Festival 2019. She is an artist I respect deeply and whose music I love. The Jazz Lounge was packed out and in the time we shared it felt like everyone in the room was given permission to be themselves and Tank was celebrated for all who she is. And another big moment for us happened really recently. We pitched our show to British Airways and we have been accepted as a show for their in-flight entertainment. Knowing we get to share music by female artists we love and respect is a joy for us, and to share that on an international level is something we want to continue to do – to celebrate and champion more artists in their careers, bringing their music to new audiences.

Jennie: What are you most excited about for 2020?

Nina: 2020 is an exciting year! For International Women’s Day we are producing three events. The headline show sees vocalist Zara McFarlane performing at Ronnie Scott’s on 8th March; drummer Jas Kayser and singer-songwriter Sans Soucis are performing at Hospital Club on 9th March; and saxophonist Camilla George performs at Allbright on 11th March.

We’re currently developing an exciting product which will launch towards the end of this year. In the meantime, we will continue to champion women through our radio show and live events. 

Jennie: We’re thrilled to be working with you via the AWF Career Development Programme, how do you think this will help you move forward?

Nina: We are very excited to be part of the AWF Career Development Programme. Working with you and Fred (Bolza) through coaching/mentorship has already helped us massively with our long-term development, helping us build on our strategy and resilience for Women In Jazz as we grow. It helps us to ask ourselves the questions that build the vision of our projects while serving the needs of our Women In Jazz community. 

Jennie: Who are the women that inspire you the most – either in jazz, music or elsewhere, and why?

Nina: This is a great question and it made me think a lot because I have two answers… 

Growing up, there were different women who inspired me: artists including Nina Simone for her phenomenal musicianship, raw expression and stage presence; Regina Spektor and Norah Jones – as pianists and songwriters I could identify with their lyrics and playing; and of course family. My mum is a person in my life who shows me the meaning of worldwide compassion and kindness and what it means to really see, understand and help people and make them feel safe – among her many other qualities!

My second answer is that I am wholeheartedly inspired by the women in my life now – my childhood friends who remind me to always be true to myself. My colleagues in music and education who are innovative and tenacious, who push for what is right through art forms, policy, activism and speaking publicly. And the young people I work with as an educator who push boundaries of imagination and are steadfast in what they believe to be fair and kind. It is in sharing my journey with them and having the privilege to be part of their journeys – in all the moments of highs and lows – that I am most inspired, because that is when we are real and we are human, and we learn. 

Find out more on Women in Jazz here.

You can support our Career Development Programme by joining us as Trailblazer. For a monthly donation you receive priority invitations to exclusive gigs, special offers and regular updates about our cause.