Women Fighting Sexism in Jazz Have a Voice. And Now, a Code of Conduct.

Nine of the 14 members of the We Have Voice Collective, which is releasing a Code of Conduct for the improvised-music community, photographed at the Jazz Gallery in Manhattan. Clockwise from top left: Imani Uzuri, Tamar Sella, Ganavya Doraiswamy, Sara Serpa, Linda May Han Oh, Fay Victor, Rajna Swaminathan, María Grand and Jen Shyu.

Over the past year a steady stream of public testimonials from female jazz musicians has made clear what most already knew privately: Sexism and harassment are deeply ingrained in the improvised-music world.

The We Have Voice Collective, a new group of female and non-binary musicians in jazz and experimental music, plans to release a Code of Conduct on Tuesday that aims to build upon the conversations sparked by jazz’s own #MeToo movement, clearly articulating what a more equitable workplace might look like and setting expectations for change.

The collective comprises 14 instrumentalists and vocalists and is working to ensure that predatory and sexist behavior is seen as aberrant, not as part of the cost of doing business in jazz.

“The idea is to propose solutions, and also open the conversation to go further,” the tenor saxophonist María Grand, a member of the collective, said. “How do we change this culture? And not just in the dynamic of victims denouncing perpetrators, because that puts the victims at a lot of risk. What we’re trying to do is change the cultural mind-set so that people know what to do when they suspect or see abuse.”

Nine organizations — festivals, venues, educational institutions, labels and small media outlets — have signed on to the Code of Conduct, committing to abide by it. The collective hopes they will also display it prominently on their physical premises and websites.

The first wave of adoptees includes Winter Jazzfest in Manhattan, the Banff International Workshop in Jazz & Creative Music and Biophilia Records. The flutist Nicole Mitchell, a collective member, suggested that adherence to the document could become “a mark of distinction, and a certain kind of elegance” for institutions in the jazz world.

The code, which was collectively written over a period of months, is divided into two painstakingly written sections: commitments and definitions. The commitments are a series of specific answers to the question, “How can we commit to creating safe(r) spaces in the performing arts?” The definitions offer a small, detailed glossary explaining the meaning of “sexual harassment,” “workplace” and “consent.”

We Have Voice will be promoting the code and fostering further conversations during a slate of round tables scheduled for May, including one at the New School on May 7 and at the Vision Festival on May 24. (The collective will also convene a discussion at Harvard on May 9, and in Geneva on May 27.)

The group came together late last year, growing out of two independent email conversations. One small group of musicians was discussing writing a code of conduct, and another was composing an open letter to the jazz community on the topic of sexual harassment and assault.

A unified team began working via email and Google Hangouts, first focusing on the open letter. The participants soon began inviting other musicians in. Over a period of months the membership swelled to about 20, then settled down to the 14 in the collective now.

We Have Voice features award-winning musicians like Ms. Mitchell and the drummer Terri Lyne Carrington as well as young musicians still completing their graduate studies. And it is diverse in terms of ethnic background — something that led to a constant stream of suggestions and refinements on the language.

“The beauty of this collective is that everybody has different things they can offer, different experiences,” Ms. Carrington said.

As a result, We Have Voice espouses a devoutly intersectional-feminist point of view, using the term “safe(r) spaces” throughout the code in acknowledgment that each person’s specific background confers a different relationship to power, so there is no Platonic ideal of a safe environment.

The group plans to keep its makeup stable for now, not adding or subtracting members, and wants to become known as a resource for young musicians, perhaps creating an informal mentorship program in the process.

“We want to have more emphasis on women leading — to have that as the norm rather than the exception,” said the vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Jen Shyu, a collective member.

In December, We Have Voice released the open letter, calling on their peers in the music community “to speak up when witnessing or suspecting abusive or discriminatory behavior.” Nearly 1,000 people have now signed it.

Meanwhile, tales of workplace and classroom harassment have continued to pile up in the jazz world since early last year. The young trombonist Kalia Vandever posted an article on Medium in March attesting to her own experiences as an undergraduate at Juilliard and offering some ideas about what ought to be done. Ms. Vandever said that despite being promoted as a poster child for the school, she was one of only two women in Juilliard’s robust jazz program, and often felt stranded. Teachers frequently subjected both her body and her playing to special scrutiny, sometimes making explicitly sexual comments, she said.

“Looking back on my accounts of sexual harassment and misogyny, it’s difficult not to wish I had spoken up in the moment or confronted my peers or teachers directly after the misconduct, but I didn’t have the guidance, knowledge, nor confidence to say something at the time,” she wrote. “It shouldn’t be my responsibility — especially within the classroom — to say something.”

It’s this lack of support that the collective is aiming to confront — both by offering counsel and mentorship, and by codifying expectations for institutions.

We Have Voice’s efforts are not the only of their kind taking place in the jazz world. The Women in Jazz Organization, an advocacy group pushing for gender equity, was founded last year. And at schools like the Berklee College of Music, students and teachers have organized on behalf of survivors of sexual assault and harassment.

Looking broadly at the music industry, it is widely seen as lagging behind even Hollywood on gender equality, and it has no labor body comparable to the Screen Actors Guild — which released its own sexual harassment code of conduct in February — to battle for artists’ interests.

In jazz, power is not as centralized in the hands of corporations, which in turn employ pop producers and control entire creative supply chains. Rather, in the improvised-music business, the most important single entity is the musicians themselves. Beyond that, it is festivals and educational establishments.

We Have Voice hopes many more such institutions will align with its code of conduct.

“We’re not really doing this for the branding, or trying to be part of the one time that this happens in the mainstream,” said Rajna Swaminathan, a collective member. “We’re really trying to do the groundwork and hold institutions accountable.”

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