Female jazz instrumentalists have been in short supply almost since the music began. And when one looks past the pianists who have gained some prominence--Mary Lou Williams, Marian McPartland, Toshiko Akiyoshi and more recent arrivals such as Geri Allen, Renee Rosnes and Eliane Elias--the view becomes even more sparse, with horn players especially difficult to find.
But not completely, and "Instrumental Women: Celebrating Women-N-Jazz"--a concert at the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences' Goldenson Theater Saturday night--was a lively and largely successful effort to celebrate the roles that women have played and continue to play as vital performers on every jazz instrument.
Appropriately, the program's star and its honoree were the same artist: alto saxophonist and singer Vi Redd. A veteran who has performed with everyone from Dizzy Gillespie and Count Basie to Rahsaan Roland Kirk and McPartland, she has been acknowledged far too rarely for the sterling qualities of her music.
Although Redd, 71, did not appear until the closing segment of a lengthy program, her Charlie Parker-influence alto saxophone playing on "Misty," "The Shadow of Your Smile" and an ebullient blues jam was the evening's highlight. Blending crowd-pleasing riffing with sudden bursts of bop phrases, singing the blues with robust assuredness, her performance was the work of a first-rate jazz artist. Its fine quality emphasized the event's largely unspoken subtext--that, until very recently, the male club aspect of jazz made it difficult for even the most talented female instrumentalists to break through.
The full program embraced a wide range of talented players. Among the best were those who functioned primarily as a rhythm team: drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, bassist Leslie Baker and percussionist Bobbye Hall. Covering every style of music thrown at them, from straight-ahead to Latin to fusion, they performed with quiet but dependable excellence.
Other participants included violinist Karen Briggs, saxophonists Cece Worrall and Jacqueline Klimek, flutist Valarie King, keyboardists Karen Hernandez and Vanessa Burch, singer Phyllis Battle and the trio of bassist Jennifer York. KLON disk jockey James Janesse served as master of ceremonies.