Ann Patterson says she’s been accused of reverse discrimination in her hiring policies for Maiden Voyage, the all-women big band she created six years ago.

“You have to understand that all the jobs are for men,” says Patterson, 39, the group’s lead saxophonist. “It’s not easy out there if you’re a woman, and I think I’m just evening up the odds.”

Maiden Voyage, the 17-piece, Los Angeles-based ensemble, which plays traditional jazz such as swing as well as more innovative numbers, will open the free luncheon concert series beginning today at South Coast Plaza’s Town Center Park. The sixth annual lunchtime series features eight concerts and runs through Sept. 18.

Maiden Voyage has compiled a tidy resume since it first performed at the 1980 Kansas City Women’s Jazz Festival. Subsequent gigs at the influential Monterey and Playboy jazz festivals, television appearances (including NBC’s “The Tonight Show”) and a passel of shining reviews helped secure its reputation in music circles.


Patterson believes that Maiden Voyage is an inspiration to female musicians. As its name suggests, Maiden Voyage has, according to Patterson, provided the first job for several young performers, offered regular work for veterans and helped fuel hopes for those just coming up.

Patterson put it this way in an article that appeared in the December/January issue of Jazz Educators Journal:

“Little did I know that Maiden Voyage (would) . . . become many things for its members--a network for women in the music business, a supportive atmosphere in which to develop new skills and gain experience, a showcase to expose talent, a source of income, a role mode for aspiring musicians (and) a living contradiction to the myths that ‘all-girl’ bands are mediocre and that women cannot play jazz well. . . .” Those myths, Patterson says, have been fostered by the jazz establishment, which she said has an inherent bias against women. Except for a few pianists and star singers (Ella Fitzgerald, Cleo Laine and Sarah Vaughan, to name a few), most female performers don’t get much attention or credit for their accomplishments, she said.

She did concede, however, that more women are working now than ever before, and acknowledges a National Assn. of Jazz Educators Jan. 14 report that about 15% of all professional musicians are female.


“I can say that women probably have as much chance as men once they reach the audition stage,” Patterson said. “The challenge is getting to that audition.”

Maiden Voyage has its own challenge these days--cutting a record. Despite charming many critics and playing regularly in the Los Angeles area, the music industry’s hub, the band has failed to draw much interest among the major record companies, Patterson said.

Although disappointed, Patterson is not surprised. The problem, she says, has little to do with talent and more to do with the companies’ disinterest in big bands.

“Big bands just don’t record; the market is generally small, and the companies probably perceive it as being very small,” she explained. “One of the reasons is that there’s a lot of costs associated with recording several musicians. It gets expensive (in the studio), and the companies probably worry about making money.”


The group has decided to take an aggressive approach, and Patterson is trying to line up private financing for a recording that would be offered to the major labels. She said she’s also negotiating with two smaller companies that have expressed interest in helping Maiden Voyage record.

A tour, possibly taking in Japan, may also be on the agenda. Colleges have also been receptive to the band’s music, and Patterson is considering campus tours in the Midwest, Texas, even California.

If the group reaches Texas, Patterson will find herself close to her roots. The daughter of a pharmacist who had been a Dixieland drummer, Patterson was born and raised in Dallas. She later earned a master’s degree in music education at the University of Illinois and moved to Los Angeles in the early 1970s to teach and become a free-lance musician.

The free-lancing continues today. When not running through riffs with Maiden Voyage, Patterson plays jazz and commercial top 40 tunes with a quintet at parties. Then there are the scattered nightclub gigs, both with the quintet and Maiden Voyage, and the studio jobs.


“It all creates more work, and for a musician like me, that’s where it’s at.”