Professor and chair of sociology Stephen Ellingson and Chelsea Wahl ’13 published an article about women’s careers in jazz in Qualitative Sociology (September 2018, Volume 41, Issue 3, pp 445–471). The article draws on over 30 interviews with women in Hamilton’s Jazz Archives and shows how two core cultures of jazz have shaped women’s entry into and success.
Historically, the jazz art world has followed norms of meritocracy, which promote equality across boundaries of race and class. At the same time a culture of exclusivity, anchored in gendered essentialism, has severely limited female participation.
In the article, the authors illustrate how these contradictory cultures of inclusion and exclusion operate to channel women into feminized roles in the jazz world. They then discuss how women employ a number of strategies to work around the culture of exclusivity and capitalize on the norms and values of musical meritocracy.
Despite institutional openings in professional jazz that emerged following the women’s movement, female jazz artists continue to face strong barriers toward full equality in the jazz world. Although female artists consistently demonstrate that they possess equal musical skills to male musicians according to the norms of meritocracy that guide professional jazz, women remain on the margins of the jazz art world.