Keychanges for women in jazz?

J-Night and Hull Jazz Festival Director David Porter was invited to take part in a roundtable discussion at Cheltenham Jazz Festival last week, focusing on the Keychange initiative and gender balance in jazz. We asked him to fill us in on what the panel discussed…

What was the theme for the panel discussion?

The discussion was part of collaborative research project Keychanges at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, a ten-month AHRC-funded research project run by Sarah Raine and Professor Nick Gebhardt from Birmingham City University. This was part of the industry development strand of the jazz festival.

Keychange aims to accelerate change and create a better, more inclusive music industry for present and future generations.

The aim of the event was to explore the experiences of women in jazz and to provide evidence supporting Cheltenham’s pledge to achieve a 50/50 gender balance in their programme by 2022. As part of the project, we heard from number of women musicians playing at this year’s festival.

This roundtable event offered a space to discuss the challenges and potentials of the PRS Foundation Keychange initiative and to share the ways in which the five pledged jazz festivals have engaged so far in promoting gender balance in programming.

Who else joined you on the panel?

Cheltenham Jazz Festival, EFG London Jazz Festival, Glasgow International Jazz Festival, Hull Jazz Festival and Manchester Jazz Festival are the first five UK jazz festivals to have signed up to Keychange. We were joined by academics from Birmingham City University and a number of women musicians. The audience contained interested parties, such as musicians, promoters, academics, educationalists and general public.

David (back right) and the other panel members

What were the key themes/questions that emerged?

Women musicians are still under-represented within the programming of jazz festivals and there’s still a perception that jazz is a male-oriented industry. This is changing, but not without a huge challenge. Having a goal of 50/50 focusses the mind wonderfully!

A main challenge is at secondary school level and entrance into conservatoires and music higher education, where there’s still a male bias. Recent successes coming out of Tomorrows Warriors and Trinity Laban, launching the careers of artists such as Nubya Garcia, Cassie Kinoshi and Cherise Adams-Burnett (all award winners at the 2019 Jazz FM awards), illustrates that there can be a career path. It’s hoped that other, more conservative, conservatoires will follow this lead.

Cherise Adams-Burnett at Hull Jazz Festival

We felt that Music Hubs have a real role to play in encouraging young women to join the world of jazz and resist the temptation of stereotyping girls into classical and vocal and boys into rock and pop.

There’s a growth of women taking senior roles in festival and promoter organisations and a growing awareness of real change.

Gender balance is seen as important, as well as encouraging newer and younger audiences to jazz gigs. We certainly see that in Hull, and it seems that the commercial side of jazz is waking up to this, as a way of reversing the decline in audiences that was the norm over the last 10 years.

Hull Jazz Festival became a Keychange Associate Festival in 2018. Why do you think initiatives like Keychange are important?

See above! If Hull Jazz Festival is to fulfil its aim of presenting jazz as a forward and progressive artform, it needs to champion and advocate for an inclusive and diverse participation base. Keychange is one way of doing this and the 5 festivals talked about joining up on future Keychange touring projects to spread the word around the UK.

What female artists can we look forward to seeing at Hull Jazz Festival this year?

Hull has recently been working with Tomorrows Warriors to highlight jazz talents such as saxophonist Camilla George, vocalist Cherise Adams-Burnett, guitarist Shirley Tetteh plus many others. We were also delighted to bring Dame Evelyn Glennie to the festival with an incredibly powerful new collaboration with Trio HLK.

This year we’ve commissioned rising piano star Sarah Tandy, who’ll be working with us over the year plus the Ukrainian jazz harpist Alina Bzhezhinska. And we’ll be continuing our relationship with musical director Janette Mason and the vocalists Vimala Rowe and Juliet Roberts.

We’re really excited about the talent coming through and proud to take our place in supporting gender balance within jazz!

The Steve Williamson Experience – New Trio and UK Tour heading to Hull this summer

Having burst into the jazz firmament in the 1980s, British saxophonist and composer, Steve Williamson has continued to shine as one of its brightest ever stars. The utterly distinctive and ever-questing Williamson is now ready to illuminate a brand-new path with his special light: The Steve Williamson Experience, a musical collaboration between The Steve Williamson Trio and StringTing, which tours the UK from 1st May 2019 with some of the most talented young jazz musicians of the day. The project features original new music by Williamson commissioned by Tomorrow’s Warriors with support from the PRS Foundation Open Fund.

The Steve Williamson Experience (c) Carl Hyde

The project is the brainchild of Williamson and one of the UK’s most revered jazz musicians and educators, bassist Gary Crosby OBE, co-founder with Janine Irons MBE of the ground-breaking jazz music education and artist development organisation, Tomorrow’s Warriors.

Formed organically during Williamson’s own extensive involvement with coaching the young musicians of Tomorrow’s Warriors, this exciting new project comprises a trio of Williamson on saxophones and electronics alongside young Portuguese drummer, Zoe Pascal and UK bassist, Hamish Moore together with all-women string ensemble, StringTing, led by violinist, Rhiannon Dimond, also all members of the extensive Tomorrow’s Warriors’ family. StringTing Trio will also provide the support set on the tour. London Jazz News recently wrote that StringTing is: “…one of the most exciting ensembles to have emerged recently from the stable of Tomorrow’s Warriors”.

The Steve Williamson Experience (c) Carl Hyde

The Steve Williamson Experience provides a unique journey around the sonic potential of music as a true art form. Through his lifelong study of nature, harmony and proportion, Williamson creates music that soothes and heals as well as entertains. His extensive use of primordial tones speaks directly to the essence of who we are and his unique blending of classical and jazz elements creates an entrancing, life-enhancing, soul advancing musical experience.

For the deep-thinking, versatile and collaborative Williamson, this touring project represents the perfect opportunity to help mentor the next generation of young artists, as he himself was so memorably and generously mentored by the inspirational Art Blakey. A profound understanding of his art and a deep belief in the power of the universal language of music to unite and connect people give a special quality and integrity to Williamson’s work and enable him to build a strong bond with audiences all over the world and across many diverse music genres.

Williamson comments: “This project is the perfect synthesis of many ideas I have had in my head for a while. I am a firm believer in passing on knowledge to the next generation, whether in performing or writing music and the chance to work closely with these talented, enthusiastic and above all, fearless young musicians has been both thrilling and humbling in equal measure. There is nothing they can’t achieve given the right conditions in which to thrive. This is where Tomorrow’s Warriors has played such a key role in nurturing and encouraging the talents and aspirations of young musicians today. I hope that audiences will enjoy the music and have fun watching the musical talent of tomorrow evolve in real time”.

Added Gary Crosby: “Steve and I have worked closely together over many years and we share a common vision in music. We both feel that the possibilities for this exciting collaboration are endless and we have a whole host of innovative ideas about where we want to take this, in every respect. It’s so enriching and life-affirming and this is just the beginning.”

You can check out The Steve Williamson Experience at Hull Jazz Festival this summer. They’re at Hull Truck Theatre on Saturday 20th July, with tickets from £6 – find out more and book tickets here.

Other dates in the tour include:

  • Wed 1st May 2019, 7.45pm Purcell Room, South Bank Centre, London
  • Fri 10th May 2019, 8pm, Turner Sims, Southampton
  • Sat 18th May 2019, 8pm CBSO Centre, Birmingham
  • Sun 19th May 2019, 7pm, Hallé St Michael’s, Manchester
  • Thurs 23rd May 2019, 8pm St George’s, Bristol
  • Fri 24th May 2019, 7.30pm Gulbenkian Theatre, Canterbury

“[music bridges] this fine artist’s rich interior life to the expectant world outside”
The Guardian on Steve Williamson

“…true creation and artistry” The Morning Star on Steve Williamson



Steve Williamson – saxophones, electronics;

Zoe Pascal – drums;

Hamish Moore – double bass;

and StringTing

with support from StringTing Trio


Rhiannon Dimond – violin

Abigail Davis – violin (Quartet)

Julia Vaughan – viola

Miranda Lewis – cello