Jazz Arts Group (JAG) Educator Program Director Rachel Azbell ‘19 is partnering with other groups to host events to empower girls in jazz, culminating in the first Jazz Girls Day, an all-day event for high school and college students.

Azbell started working at JAG while still an undergraduate music majors at Denison.

“I’m very passionate about women in jazz because I’m a jazz musician myself,” Azbell said in an Ohio News article. “I was really excited to get involved with some of the women in jazz affairs and create some programs that kind of reflected that.”

The article also notes:

The Jam Session Series, a program spearheaded by Azbell, is another female-focused event taking place at the Jazz Academy this month. Because jam sessions have historically been competitive and male-dominated, Azbell has said that her goal is to create an environment where girls are comfortable taking risks.

“A jam session is described in the history books as a slicing competition where all these killer male musicians get together and try to compete. So it’s not often you see a lot of women playing,” Azbell said. “Even at the Columbus jams, they are quite friendly and usually not too competitive in nature, but I just felt that we needed a jam that was really educational in nature, and not in a bar, but in our jazz academy.”

Azbell said seeing a variety of leadership roles further encourages girls to be in the spotlight.

“It all comes down to hiring people who represent the people you want in your space,” Azbell said. “That’s why I started hiring people, not necessarily based in Columbus, but offering them the opportunity to come in from Cincinnati or somewhere else and create a space where our art educators reflect the community.”

Azbell said that in a genre as vulnerable as jazz, that support is critical, especially because girls are taught to take fewer risks.

“You sing or play an instrument and to some extent you always improvise in jazz,” Azbell said. “You have to feel the support of the people around you.” 

March 10, 2023