Big swing for women 

• Artemis Orchestra founder and saxophonist Gemma Farrell.

HAMILTON HILL’S Gemma Farrell is tackling the gender imbalance in jazz with her big band of mostly female, non-binary and transgender musicians.

Less than a quarter of all professional jazz musicians are female and Farrell, who lectures in jazz studies at WAAPA and runs the Young Women in Jazz Program, put together The Artemis Orchestra to encourage more ladies to come onboard.

The 21-piece outfit play original jazz composed or arranged by female, non-binary and transgender Australians, and will take to the stage this weekend at the Perth International Jazz Festival.

“The Artemis Orchestra is a band, predominantly made up of people who aren’t as privileged as the men that make up the majority of the jazz scene,” Farrell says.

“Having a band of women means that we are promoting and providing opportunity for these people to be heard as composers, arrangers, musicians and soloists. 

“The main reason I formed the band was because of my experience running the YWIJ course, and knowing how much having a band full of professional female musicians performing music by women, would have inspired me as a young girl. 

“When I was growing up there was nothing like this, and I know there are not enough role models for our young women wanting to enter the jazz scene, so mainly I want young people who are women, non-binary or transgender, to look at our band and know that they are welcome and more than capable of having a career as a jazz musician as well.” 

Farrell says women, non-binary and transgender people are also woefully underrepresented in university jazz departments in Australia.

“I know of only one female instrumentalist who has been on salary in a university jazz department in the country. That’s not good enough,” she says.

“We need more female instrumentalists working at all of our Australian universities with jazz departments. 

“This gives young musicians female role models, and makes young women feel more welcome. 

“We also need to drop the idea that some instruments and even styles of music are more masculine or feminine than others. For example, my daughter has grown up watching me work with female drummers, and now plays the drums herself, but I know that a lot of people still see the drums as a masculine instrument and that is ridiculous.”

Farrell says the Perth International Jazz Festival organisers have done a great job at representing female artists, but other festivals haven’t fared as well: “If your only experience of having watched jazz is at PIJF, you wouldn’t realise how outnumbered females are, and that’s fantastic. Other festival directors in the country could take note of what they are doing. I would also encourage my colleagues to keep diversity in mind when they create their own bands. It’s okay to form a band of your mates, but is there someone else you could give the opportunity too, who may be overlooked because of their gender, race or sexual orientation?”

The Artemis Orchestra will perform a free gig at the Perth International Jazz Festival today (Saturday November 7) at 1pm at Northbridge Piazza.

The festival runs from Friday to Sunday and includes lots of great acts like Libby Hammer, Tom O’Halloran, Chris McNulty, and the Cotton Club Dance Party.

For more info on the jazz festival go to perthjazzfest.com

by STEPHEN POLLOCK

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