Meghan Gilhespy recalls that when she was playing in high-school bands, she was surrounded by other girls. But by the time she reached jazz school at the university level — not so much.

Her experience is certainly not unique. Much has been written about the reputation of jazz as an old boys’ club that can often be discouraging for young women thinking of studying jazz, and many schools and community groups — such as the Women in Jazz Organization — are working toward making the jazz scene and education system more inclusive.

In the same vein, Gilhespy has teamed up with trumpet player and University of Toronto assistant professor Jim Lewis to create an outreach program for high-school girls in southern Ontario. Gilhespy teaches an ensemble made up of mostly women that travels to high schools and OMEA events to perform and run workshops, in hopes of encouraging more girls to audition for the U of T’s jazz program.

“We hope to empower girls who are passionate about music to not shy away from applying to our undergraduate program,” she says.

After completing her undergrad at Capilano University, Gilhespy received a master’s degree in jazz while studying under Dave Leibman, Christine Duncan, Andrew Downing, Geoff Young, and David Occipinti at the U of T. Since then, she’s taken her academic pursuits even further — becoming the first woman in Canada to undertake a doctorate in jazz studies.

Gilhespy is also a junior fellow at Massey College and has received scholarships from the British Columbia Arts Council two years in a row. She works at the U of T’s Music Library while also working as a teaching assistant.

As a vocalist, Gilhespy has performed at jazz venues throughout both Toronto and her hometown of Vancouver, and she performed with Tanya Tagaq and Christine Duncan’s Element choir as part of a documentary for the National Film Board of Canada. In 2016, she released Vive Le Touran eight-song album of contemporary vocal jazz.

Gilhespy participated in our Jazzology program in 2017. We asked the 27-year-old to tell us more about her studies and accomplishments since, and how the jazz world can better engage and encourage young, underrepresented talent.