Creating New Paths with Next Jazz Legacy

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The inaugural class of the Next Jazz Legacy, from left: Kalia Vandever, Anastassiya Petrova, Ivanna Cuesta Gonzalez, Keyanna Hutchinson, Loke Risberg, Alexis Lombre and Lexi Hamner.

(Photo: Ellen Qbertplaya)

As the Next Jazz Legacy — an initiative created to provide a wide-ranging year-long apprenticeship program to support selected young women and non-binary jazz musicians — completes its first year, it’s important to note that the planning for the project began long before launching.

Terri Lyne Carrington, NEA Jazz Master, Grammy-winning drummer/bandleader and founder and artistic director of the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice, began working with Vanessa Reed, president and CEO of New Music USA, to craft the various elements of the program in 2019. The Mellon Foundation provided three years of funding, and in 2021 applications for the inaugural apprenticeship opened.

The selection process began with an open call for applications, followed by a review process employing a diverse panel of jazz musicians and music industry professionals that included Carrington, who also serves as the artistic director for Next Jazz Legacy. Applicants were required to be U.S. citizens, fully vaccinated and not currently enrolled in an academic institution program or contracted with a third-party recording company.

The results came in when seven musicians were selected for the 2022 class: Anastassiya Petrova (piano/organ), Ivanna Cuesta (drums), Lexi Hamner (voice/trombone), Keyanna Hutchinson (guitar), Alexis Lombre (piano), Loke Risberg (guitar) and Kalia Vandever (trombone).

Once they were chosen, the Next Jazz Legacy team worked to pair them with established jazz bandleaders as well as with a musical mentor. Bandleaders for 2022 included Chris Potter, esperanza spalding, Tia Fuller, Lizz Wright, Marcus Miller, Linda May Han Oh and Mary Halverson. Musical mentors included Kris Davis, Wayne Shorter, Bobby McFerrin, Brandon Ross, Georgia Ann Muldrow and Bill Stewart.

In addition, applicants received a $10,000 stipend, music business sessions and the opportunity to perform with other Next Jazz Legacy members.

As the first year of the Next Jazz Legacy project began to close and the deadline for 2023 applications approached, DownBeat spoke with several artists and administrators involved in the project.

Speaking from the New Music USA offices in New York, Reed, who moved to the United States in 2019 from London, described how the Next Jazz Legacy project began.

“When I was in England working with PRS Foundation, a similar new music organization, I was already thinking a lot about gender equity,” she said. “I started a global campaign called KeyChange, encouraging live music festivals around the globe to sign up to a gender balance pledge. And at New Music USA, I wanted to think about what we could do in genres where there was a particularly big gap between the number of male and female creators involved. I began to talk to Terri Lyne to brainstorm about what New Music USA might be able to do to raise awareness of gender equity in jazz — and do something concrete that would have a national impact and encourage both men and women in the community to really think about how they’re identifying talented musicians.”

Gender equity in jazz has also been on Carrington’s mind for many years, serving as the impetus behind her involvement in the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice.

In an email, she referenced a quote from an essay she wrote for Billboard magazine in February 2022: “We not only have to face the facts that misogyny and sexism are still very much a part of the music industry, we also have to change the systems and patterns that have remained oppressive in order for the music to fully flourish and match how humanity is evolving.”

Reed and Carrington discussed the possibility of how New Music USA and the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice could partner to create a program to advance gender equity in jazz — and what that program could offer.

“Terri and I talked for about 18 months about different ideas, and I was also working on ways to fund the program,” Reed said. “Finally, we managed to come up with a program that we believe combines all the elements that an emerging artist needs to get to the next level: an apprenticeship with an established bandleader, a mentorship, investment in their own career and other forms of promotion. And both Terri and I felt that we wanted to have men and women working together to bring about change that would be positive for the whole community.”

For both, a key element of the program stems from limiting applicants to those not currently enrolled in an academic institution program.

“The reason behind that is because the moment that you’re finished with your education and the brilliant opportunities you get in education — suddenly you have no infrastructure around you.” Reed said. “You’re trying to work out your next step, do the right thing, get to the next level, but you’re feeling quite lonely. It’s also possible someone may not have gone through traditional education in music, either. That’s the reason we focus on that stage of people’s careers. So it’s really about giving people a new set of connections for a real-life career.”

Another focus is working to match the musicians chosen for Next Jazz Legacy with the bandleaders and mentors who will be best suited for each member of the group.

“As part of the application process, we asked each applicant to name three mentors they wished to work with,” said de la Rosa. “They also completed a survey in which they listed their long-term and short-term goals, and another where they stated what they’d like to learn from music business experts. Using that information, we were able to identify who would best help them to reach those individual goals.”

“In addition to apprenticeship performances during the year and mentoring sessions and business information meetings, the seven musicians chosen were also able to all play together several times,” Reed added. “They did a live concert for WBGO radio, as well as a performance at the Mary Lou Williams Jazz Festival in Washington, D.C. — a very appropriate context for this group.”

For her apprenticeship, trombonist and vocalist Lexi Hamner chose Tia Fuller, who also happened to be one of her professors while Hamner attended Berklee.

“I chose her because I wanted to dive deeper beyond my relationship with her as a professor,” Hamner explained. “I wanted to learn about being a band leader and balancing that with her teaching career. My first gig with Tia was nerve-racking, but the second was near and dear to my heart because it was in my hometown, Cincinnati. My family and friends were able to come out and see me perform with her and the other musicians. And having Bobby McFerrin as a mentor was amazing — the insights he provided talking about his career and advice on how to build my own.

“It’s been tough figuring out what I’m going to do, how I’m going to use this degree from Berklee now that I’ve graduated, and how I can push my music. But being a part of Next Jazz Legacy has given me all the tools I need. It gave me the chance to learn from mentors who are real professionals, and the stipend allowed me to buy all the equipment I needed. All the other resources — from mentors, my cohorts as well as music business advisors — have given me great guidelines to follow. The path has been made clearer for me.”

Next Jazz Legacy pianist Alexis Lombre had the opportunity to be part of several of Marcus Miller’s performances in 2022, including at the Montreal Jazz Festival. She also flew to Los Angeles to spend several days with her mentor, musician and producer Georgia Ann Muldrow.

“The chances to play with Marcus and his band were wonderful experiences,” said Lombre. “And when I met Georgia, I learned so much about how she functioned day-to-day to build her success. The whole year has definitely expedited my 10-year plan — smashing all the things I’d hoped to do into just this one. It’s been very impactful and has given me a lot of confidence. In beautiful ways, it required a great growth spurt on my part, because all these barriers were removed and I’m building up an amazing network.”

“I’m very proud of how the first year has gone,” Carrington said. “A few hiccups, of course, as any new program will have. But, overall, it’s been a very successful year, with our artists doing shows or in the studio with some of their biggest inspirations musically. The business mentorships have been quite useful as well. As the proverb goes, ‘It takes a village.’ And this program allows the ‘village’ to step up and help usher in some fine additions to the next generation of jazz.

“I’m excited about the next two years of the program. We have experiences to share with the next round of band leaders, as well as the next round of emerging artists. We see nothing but growth on the horizon and hope that we can continue past the next two funded years. At the end of the day. It’s our hope that we are contributing to a paradigm shift in jazz.” DB



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