The history of female jazz instrumentalists features exceptional women like Mary Lou Williams, Marian McPartland, Marjorie “Marjie” Hyams, and later on Alice Coltrane, Carla Bley, Canada’s Jane Bunett, and Vancouver’s own Renee Rosnes. Still, most people associate female artists with singing, and one can’t deny the significant influence of Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughn and many others.
However, in the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s, Mary Osborne, schooled in her love of the guitar of Charlie Christian, blazed her way through the bands of Art Tatum, Dizzy Gillespie, Coleman Hawkins and Mary Lou Williams, all the while being referred to by her contemporaries as ‘the guitar gal’.
But perhaps truly the most interesting and underrated guitarist in jazz history is Emily Remler. Herb Ellis called her the new superstar of guitar and in a 1982 interview with People magazine, Remler said: “I may look like a nice Jewish girl from New Jersey, but inside I’m a 50-year-old, heavy-set black man with a big thumb, like Wes Montgomery .” She died tragically of a heroin overdose in 1990, but not before influencing a generation of guitarists.
The TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival this year features three fine female guitarists from vastly different areas of the jazz spectrum.
Returning this year is Mary Halvorson. For Halvorson, Downbeat poll winner and June 2018 cover girl, looks and labels can be deceiving. It is, of course a hard enough slog being an avant- garde guitar player and female in a male dominated industry. Coupled with the fact Halvorson with her big old Guild Jazz box and horn rimmed glasses looks like she should be playing Raffi songs for her kindergarten class. Deeply steeped in the work of her mentor Anthony Braxton, this stuff would warp those little minds forever–hopefully.
This is a nice trio thing that starts odd and just gets weirder.
Brooklyn based Halvorson is truly where it is all going in guitar-based improvisation. Check this short clip as she outlines her process.
Ava Mendoza with her band Unnatural Ways is one of those young guitarists who is not afraid to blend a mixture avant-garde jazz sounds and structures, with punk, blues and even heavy metal. Working with people Fred Frith and Nels Cline, the Brooklyn based guitarist cut her teeth in the New York jazz scene for the last decade.
She is particularly known in the experimental rock world for her extensive use of guitar effects.
The following is solo performance in Amsterdam in 2011, featuring Mendoza’s staggering use of effect pedals.
Though not to be in any way dismissed as a ‘button pusher’, here is an example of her un-effected solo acoustic work.
Mendoza has a busy day on June 26th, at 1 pm, she will be presenting a Free Workshop at Tom Lee and doing a solo midnight performance at China Cloud . Ava Mendoza will also be appearing with Unnatural Ways at The Imperial June 27th at 9pm.
Like Ava Mendoza, Montreal guitarist Vicky Mettler, who performs under the name of Kee Avil, is no stranger to guitar electronics and manipulation. Working solo, Mettler combines a variety of samples, voice and natural sounds to create what seems to me very ‘song like’ compositions. Which, given the tendency of this type electronic looping practice to sometimes come across as over indulgent, is very refreshing.
This video for ‘thinkstill’ is a great example of that intersection between improvisation and structure–using the toys.