I went to see Renee Rosnes in Hartford’s Bushnell Park tonight and had two competing things on my mind. One was how great it was, not just the band, but the whole experience. The band was fantastic: Renee Rosnes on piano, John Patitucci on bass, Carl Allen on drums, and Steve Nelson on vibes. It doesn’t get much better than that. Add to that that the show was free, outdoors, and it had a nice sized crowd. If it were spring or fall, it would have been about perfect.
The other thing wasn’t so great. When we listen to music lately, my daughter has started asking me, “Is this a boy or a girl?” I usually just answer based on who is credited with the recording, but sometimes that gets awkward. If we’re listening to the Campbell Brothers, but Shirley Jackson is the featured vocalist, I don’t know how to answer. So, I’ll say something like, “Both. A girl is singing and boys are playing the steel guitars.” The more music we listen to, the more I notice that when there are girls at all, the girls are almost always singing and the boys are almost always playing the instruments. Of course many women play instruments, usually guitar or piano, but they are almost always more famous for their singing. Aretha Franklin plays piano, Bonnie Raitt plays guitar, Diana Krall plays piano, Cassandra Wilson plays guitar, but they are all more famous as singers.
While watching Renee Rosnes tonight, I couldn’t help but think of these conversations. As I thought about them, I just kept wondering why. Why is it so rare to find a female instrumentalist? Is it overt sexism? Are women not permitted to focus on instrumental music? Or is it the less obvious, but harder to fight, kind of sexism where little girls never see female instrumentalists, so it never occurs to them to go that route? Should I begin a steady diet of Regina Cater, Terri Lynn Carrington, Cindy Blackman, Geri Allen, and Renee Rosnes in our house? I’ve promised myself that I won’t push my tastes on my daughter. She can explore and like whatever she chooses. I just hope she won’t ever spend time wondering about such things.