Women in jazz celebrated by college community


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At the Jazz Initiative’s event, Bobbi Wilsyn, the coordinator for voice and choral ensembles at the college, spoke about influential women in jazz. 

By Campus Reporter

Students, faculty and staff gathered Oct. 15 to listen to and discuss jazz artists at the Center for Black Music Research in the 618 S. Michigan Ave. Building. 

The event was the second in a series coordinated by the nonprofit organization, the Jazz Initiative.

Created by college advisor Ritch Barnes, the Jazz Initiative’s goal was to united students and jazz experts to keep appreciation for the art form alive. 

“I don’t want to see the decline in [jazz] because it is such great music,” Barnes said. “In an effort to keep it alive, I am trying to educate young people who might be interested.” 

The Jazz Initiative will host a series of events throughout the semester, each of which will have a different discussion theme. The Oct. 15 event’s theme was women in jazz. 

Barnes said he chose the topic because he thinks female jazz singers have made great contributions to the genre that go undervalued.

“Most times when people talk about jazz, they think of male musicians,” Barnes said. “Women have contributed to jazz as much as men have.”

Barnes invited Bobbi Wilsyn, coordinator for voice and choral ensembles in the Music Department, to speak and perform at the event. 

Wilsyn started the event by singing “Like Someone in Love,” composed by Jimmy Van Heusen with lyrics by Johnny Burke, accompanied by pianist Martez Rucker.

Wilsyn and Rucker had never played as a duet before the event.

“That is the beauty of jazz,” Wilsyn said to the attendees. “Even if you have not had the opportunity to perform as a duet or in a small combo, you can still make it happen.”

Wilsyn discussed women jazz greats such as Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday and Betty Carter.

Wilsyn played songs by each artist and discussed what made them unique and influential in the jazz community.

“I hope I have given you some insight on what I hear, what makes them different and what contributes to the fact they are identified as jazz singers,” Wilsyn said before singing her closing number, “Autumn Leaves” with accompaniment from Rucker.

Students who attended said they were excited to see Wilsyn perform and learn more about the singers presented. 

“I am a huge jazz fan,” said Annabelle Revak, a freshman music major. “I loved listening to [Wilsyn] sing, and to hear her sing and then hear Fitzgerald and others and hear her sing again; you could hear the different influences come through.”

Andrea Meza, a senior music major who works at the CBMR, said she is excited about what the Jazz Initiative can offer students.

“[The initiative] is an absolute bonus to what is already phenomenal here,” Meza said.

Barnes said the Initiative partners with Frequency TV, Columbia’s student-run television station, but he would like to involve more programs at the college.

“I want it to really be a collaborative effort so students can benefit from this,” Barnes said. 

He added that he wanted to enrich students’ time at Columbia and combine that with his love for jazz.

“I hope to have [events] going on until I am an old man and cannot do it anymore,” Barnes said. “There are limitless possibilities for students to be part of this. That is what really makes me happy.”