Recently, the NY-based non-profit Women in Jazz Organization kicked off its second full year of the WIJO Mentors program. Amongst the 2019- 2020 class of mentees is Lancaster, Ohio native and Denison alumni Rachel Azbell, a jazz vocalist and educator currently pursuing a Master’s of Music in Jazz Studies. At the University of North Texas in Denton, TX, she is also a teaching fellow for the vocal jazz department.
From their site, The Women in Jazz Organization is described as a “…free and volunteer-based, year-long mentorship program, designed to connect and enrich the community of women and non-binary people in Jazz.” The WIJO Mentors program specifically, provides up-and-coming musicians with role models, and “…offers a way for established jazz musicians on the scene to actively participate in and shape the future of their community.” Once selected, mentees “…learn in a one-on-one setting from professionals from around the world, receiving guidance on musical, career, and interpersonal skills.”
Although many ultimately are, participants don’t need to be living or working in New York to take part in the Women in Jazz mentorship program, thanks to the flexibility allowed by technology like Facetime and Skype. Azbell was paired with vocalist and pianist Brenda Earl Stokes. While the Canadian singer happens to be working in NY, the two will engage in discussions, private lessons, and mentorship remotely through the end of May— “almost a whole school year essentially,” Azbell explained.
Rachel Azbell graduated from Denison last December but returned to walk with her class in May, finishing her time on the hill with a Bachelor of Arts in Voice Performance. “I owe a great debt to my private instructors from when I was at Denison, they opened to doors to be where I’m at now,” she reflected. “Pete Mills and Belinda Andrews-Smith in particular really pushed me in many ways to be where I am now… I wouldn’t have the connections that led me to this opportunity without them.”
When asked what advice she would impact to current Denisonians hoping to achieve a career in the arts, Azbell didn’t hesitate to offer her thoughts. “Take advantage of the personal relationships you form with your teachers - those are your advocates, if you make an impactful relationship with them it will stay with you the rest of your life… I didn’t have a single teacher in my undergraduate time that wasn’t willing to go out on a limb for me, they all really cared.”
Ultimately, she credits her instructors at Denison with much of her success, and encourages students passionate about the arts to seek and sustain the connections that count.