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The New Cool: Hailing the female future of jazz

"I believe the (female) children are our future....
Parker Miles Blohm/KNKX
Seattle JazzED's Melba Liston Allstars in the KNKX studios

This week, Seattle JazzED's Girls Ellington Project makes jazz history. They became the first all-female band to compete in a national high school jazz competition, one of just 12 groups invited to the Savannah Music Festival's Swing Central Jazz Competition. The battle of these teenage bands took place earlier this morning, and the Girls Ellington Project made all of us proud, despite missing out on the finals. And they reminded us that the future of jazz is, slowly, becoming more and more female.

The KNKX School of Jazz has included many young women from the program's beginnings in 2005. Check out the wonderful studio session performance from the ladies of Seattle JazzED's Melba Liston Allstars from a couple of years ago, as well as bands led by singer/bassist Margaux Bouchegnie, trumpeter Bell Thompson, singer/bassist Maia Nelson, and the recent Monroe High School jazz ensemble who call themselves Kelsey and the Boys, with young Kelsey Borland at the piano.

Current members of the Girls Ellington Project have been guest DJs on KNKX, as well. We hosted drummer Emma Usui-Villareal, a 14-year-old middle school student a couple of years ago. Just last fall, reed player Jahnvi Madan hosted an hour of entirely female-led jazz. She's also on the board of directors at Seattle Women in Jazz, and provides a passionate, rising voice in the Seattle jazz community.

Surely, there's more to do to improve gender parity in music, especially in the world of instrumental music like jazz. Thanks to Seattle JazzED's Girls Ellington Project, including director Kelly Clingan, and forward-thinking jazz education programs around the Northwest, opportunities for young female musicians are growing.

One of the important ways KNKX is working to improve this disparity is to give young women examples to follow, and you'll hear many of those examples on The New Cool this week.

Tune in Saturday to hear from Los Angeles pianist Kait Dunton's pop-grooving TrioKAIT. She's told me about plans to finally visit the Seattle area for concerts later this year. Monika Herzig's all-female SHEroes group works through a unique arrangement of the Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell hit "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" from last year.

I've lined up a new single from singer Zara McFarlane, a key voice on the busy modern jazz scene in England. Check out Cecilia Stalin's cool vocals on a waltz with the Swedish electro-jazz duo Koop, and singer Mary Corso's soulful vocalising with Broca's Area from their recent album, See the Light.

Mocean Worker remixes Grace Kelly's noirish "Blues for Harry Bosch" on the show Saturday, and Dutch rock-jazz sax star Candy Dulfer reminds us why Prince said "when I want sax, I call Candy."

The Northwest has many wonderful musicians who aren't men, and I'm always happy to include them on The New Cool. Ingrid Jensen — a Vancouver, B.C., native trumpeter, composer, bandleader — teams up with Miles Davis' old keys buddy, Jason Miles, for some modern jazz rock fusion for this week's show.

Don't miss a pair of the Seattle area's finest women-led groups, too. SmackTalk, with the saxophones of Natalie Berry and Sidney Houser up front, will play The New Cool stage at NW Folklife coming up in May. I've got "Foxglove Blues" from their recent EP, Servin' It Hot.

Also on Saturday's playlist is Syrinx Effect, the ultra-cool, effects-heavy trombone and sax duo of Montana-based Naomi Moon Siegel and Seattle's emerging sax star Kate Olson. Kate's own K.O. project, the old-timey Femme Fatales Trio, and many other lineups have been bringing her much deserved attention recently.

The world of jazz has come a long way in a century, but there's plenty of room for improvement. Thanks to all of these wonderful musicians, their students and the listeners of The New Cool who know that the magic of jazz has nothing to do with the gender of the artist.

You can check out the Girls Ellington Project performing at the Seattle Art Museum's Art of Jazz concert on June 13th. The band's director Kelly Clingan said at the competition, "We believe girls belong in jazz. We're excited to be here as ambassadors of the jazzgirl movement." Let's keep it moving!

The New Cool airs Saturdays from 3 to 5 p.m., hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Wash.

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