Sammy Stein- Jazz Illuminated

Exploring Diversity, Resilience, and the Ever-Evolving Landscape of Jazz

Sammy Stein discusses highlighting women in jazz, navigating the pandemic’s impact on musicians, and advocating for diversity in the industry.

Best-selling and multiple award-winning author Sammy Stein is a revered figure in the world of jazz literature. With accolades such as the Jazz Times Distaff Award and the Literary Titan Gold Award, Sammy has firmly established herself as a voice of authority and authenticity. Her insightful contributions to Reader’s Digest, All About Jazz, and her role as International Editor for the Jazz Journalists Association, where she nurtured budding writers, highlight her influence and dedication to the craft.

Sammy’s work is celebrated for its honesty, integrity, and meticulous research. Her books, including ‘Women In Jazz,’ ‘All That’s Jazz,’ and ‘Pause, Play, Repeat,’ delve deep into the lives and experiences of musicians, offering a unique perspective that resonates with readers globally. She has become a ‘go-to’ author in the UK, known for her ability to connect with and articulate the voices of musicians, particularly those underrepresented in the industry.

Her passion for music and her commitment to giving musicians a platform is evident in her numerous roles, from curating the London Jazz Platform festival to hosting and writing radio shows. Her extensive body of work not only highlights the contributions of women in jazz but also explores the broader cultural and social dynamics within the genre. Sammy Stein’s profound impact on the jazz community makes her insights and stories invaluable to both seasoned jazz enthusiasts and newcomers alike.

In this exclusive interview with Reader’s House Magazine, Sammy Stein shares her inspirations, the challenges of representing diverse voices in jazz, and her vision for the future of the genre. Her deep understanding and passion for jazz shine through as she discusses her latest projects and the evolving landscape of jazz music. Join us as we delve into the mind of one of the most influential voices in jazz literature today.

Your books, such as “Fabulous Female Musicians” and “Women In Jazz: The Women, The Legends and Their Fight”, shine a spotlight on female musicians and their journeys in the jazz world. What inspired you to focus on highlighting the contributions of women in your work?

Over the years, interviewing many musicians, many women felt they were underrepresented or lacked opportunities men had. I wanted to see if this was the case and give them a voice. Surprisingly, some men also feel women are not represented as much as they should be, so I try to include a male perspective in my work too. 

Pause, Play, Repeat delves into the impact of the pandemic on musicians, showcasing their resilience and creativity during challenging times. Could you share some insights into the process of compiling these interviews and what you learned from the experiences shared by the musicians?

Sammy Stein, acclaimed author and advocate for diversity in jazz, shares her insights on the evolving landscape of the genre. I connected with musicians I knew had busy schedules before lockdown. I understood the impact this might have but also that these creative people might have ideas and resources none of us had thought of. I wanted readers to understand fully the impact lockdowns had on music as a whole but also how creative people found ways to cope. 

Your writing has been praised for its depth and insight into jazz culture, garnering awards and accolades from various publications. How do you approach research and storytelling to ensure your work resonates with both seasoned jazz enthusiasts and newcomers to the genre?

The key is checking facts – and also, for my books, having a wonderful editor. It is listening more than talking and prompting people to expand on ideas or topics close to their hearts that resonate throughout the music industry, not just in jazz but across genres. Many issues are the same whatever genre musicians are in. I always try to include viewpoints from those connected with the industry like venue managers, festival curators, and producers too because their insights are often profound.  

As someone deeply involved in the jazz community, you’ve curated festivals, presented radio shows, and conducted interviews with musicians. How do these experiences inform your writing and contribute to your understanding of the evolving landscape of jazz music?

With each of these experiences comes the chance to discuss things with music people – including journalists, writers, columnists, curators, venue managers, and others as well as musicians. This gives a rounded insight. For the BBC and other media, I have interviewed audience members too and this gives even more insight. At events like festivals, some of the discussions can be deep and revealing. Often simply having time is the key.  

In your book The Wonder of Jazz, you explore various aspects of jazz, including its dynasties, education, and the role of women. What do you hope readers take away from this comprehensive overview of the genre, particularly those who may be new to jazz?

Firstly, what jazz is, its history, and the fact its timeline continues and is still developing. Also, jazz is dynamic, not outdated, it is relevant and reflects society just as it has always done. Jazz has strong connections to other genres – from reggae to hip hop and classical music so it is the great link in the long chain of connections music has to people, time, and place. Young jazz musicians are bringing aspects of modern genres to jazz music and the energy they bring, combined with the teachings and experience of established players, makes jazz an ever-evolving and interesting genre to be involved in.   

Advocating for underrepresented voices in jazz seems to be a central theme in your work. How do you see the industry evolving in terms of diversity and inclusivity, and what steps do you believe are necessary to further support and amplify marginalized voices within the jazz community?

The music industry as a whole is getting better in many ways, but there is a way to go. Festival lineups and venues still need to have more women and more diversity on stage because this is the way to continue to grow audiences. It is true that when people see people like them doing anything, they believe they can do it. I have spoken with festival curators who have increased the number of women on stage, and those who have invited more culturally diverse musicians to play and the result was their audiences increased as more families, and a more diverse audience realized jazz was for them. The energy, harmonies, and connectivity of jazz music are something many musicians relish, and sharing this with the audience is paramount. The more diverse the people on stage, the greater appeal it has to audiences – it is that simple. Gone are the days of the boys club mentality in jazz and the damage it did is slowly being undone. As it becomes more accepting, an increased number of females and other minorities are finding their way into jazz and feeling accepted – so they may not be minorities for much longer. We can hope.   

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