New program Next Jazz Legacy aims to boost opportunities for women and non-binary musicians

A new program led by New Music USA and the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice aims to increase opportunities for women and non-binary musicians who remain underrepresented in the art form of jazz.

According to a study of the NPR Music Jazz Critics poll in 2019, women made up only 16 per cent of the core band personnel for the ranked albums — the majority of which included no women musicians at all. Out of the top 50 albums in the poll, only 21 per cent were led or co-led by women. These are the sorts of statistics that the newly launched Next Jazz Legacy program looks to address.

The program will support women and non-binary artists in the early stages of their careers by offering creative and professional experience through long-term apprenticeships, financial support and promotion. With funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the program represents a major investment in 20 musicians and bandleaders over the next three years.

“Over 50 per cent of New Music USA’s annual grant funds go to women and non-binary artists. However, we know that some of the inequities in our community can’t be resolved with grant funding alone,” said Vanessa Reed, president and CEO of New Music USA. “Next Jazz Legacy addresses this by providing experience on the road, promotion and opportunities for participants to learn and grow with other artists at similar stages in their career.”

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The inaugural class of Next Jazz Legacy artists will include six candidates chosen by a panel of musicians chaired by drummer and composer Terri Lyne Carrington, who is also the founder of the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice.

“Next Jazz Legacy amplifies and addresses the need for all musicians, practitioners, and professionals in jazz to contribute to a more equitable jazz future,” said Carrington. “The people that have benefited the most from long-established systems of oppression in our field are precisely the ones that need to help with addressing the problem. Otherwise, they are modelling, and at times even teaching, how to replicate those systems.”

Each artist will receive a comprehensive package that includes a $10,000 grant, a one-year performance apprenticeship, a two-track mutual mentorship program pairing them with artistic and business professionals, peer-learning cohorts led by Carrington, online learning courses from Berklee, and a variety of promotional opportunities including a podcast series, playlists developed with media partners, live showcases with national presenters, and more.

“For decades, gross inequities around gender diversity, specifically in the types of roles women and non-binary musicians play in jazz have caused these individuals to not have the same opportunities and to feel isolated, often discredited and disconnected from the overall community in jazz,” said bandleader, composer and educator Sean Jones, a member of the program’s advisory board. “Next Jazz Legacy program is here to not only address those concerns, but to get to the heart of these issues by providing solutions.”

The program is accepting submissions until Nov. 29. Candidates must be U.S. residents, fully vaccinated, and not enrolled in an academic institution during the duration of the program or contracted with a third-party recording company. Selected artists will be announced in January of 2022.

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