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International Women in Jazz

Celebrating and supporting women jazz artists.

International Women in Jazz supports women jazz artists and related professionals. In August 2023, this nonprofit organization set a one-month record for the Stop & Shop Community Bag program, benefiting to the tune of $4,026. Above, Store Manager Stephen Neilsen (far right) at Store #522 in Yonkers, New York, presents the record-setting check to IWJ President Jacqueline Lennon (second from right). Also participating in the check presentation were (far left) Brittany Edwards of IWJ and Shop & Shop Perishable Manager Margo Mascoll (second from left).

Tell us about International Women in Jazz.

International Women in Jazz (IWJ) is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization founded in 1995 that is committed to supporting women jazz artists and related professionals and fostering a greater awareness of the diverse contributions women make to jazz worldwide. Through its programs, IWJ provides information and assistance to its members, thus standing dedicated to actively ensuring a place for women as a vital part of the past, present, and future of jazz.

IWJ grew out of a seminar in 1994 about women in jazz organized by Pastor Dale Lind and held at St. Peter’s Church, also known as the Jazz Church. A range of prominent influencers and artists in jazz were present, including the Universal Jazz Coalition founder Cobi Narita, writer Leslie Gourse, owner of the renowned Village Vanguard Lorraine Gordon, and musician and composer Dottie Anita Taylor, as well as many women prominent in jazz. Through this seminar, we came into being and focused on the unmet needs of women in jazz compared to males. For all women, we’ve always known this exists in our daily lives compared to men in every field. As a vocalist and businesswoman, I can attest to the unfair practices, but we kept pursuing change for the better.

Flutist Colette Michaan performs at the 2023 IWJ Holiday Party. Photo by City’s Dream Performula.
What services do you provide to the community?

IWJ is open to the public and provides performance platforms and assistance to female jazz musicians. Our programming includes workshops, talent competition programs, career seminars, jazz exhibits, jazz sessions, concert performances, honoree and recognition awards, and an annual festival held in April during Jazz Appreciation Month.

Through this, our members mentor, educate, and prepare youth for the next generation of jazz.

We are also increasing our young adult participation through our Youth in Action component. Through this, our members mentor, educate, and prepare youth for the next generation of jazz. We have free membership up to age 17.

What sets International Women in Jazz apart from other nonprofits in your community?

IWJ is a unique organization. There are many organizations for women in jazz, but we are a nonprofit that has expanded internationally to increase our diversity. We have expanded affiliations with international organizations in Italy and Germany. For example, we had many Zoom meetings and concerts throughout the pandemic. This type of networking broadened my perspective and learning, which I brought back to the organization.

Tell us a story that illustrates the good work of your organization.

One of our members, Jane Meryll, won an international composer competition. I sent the details out to the membership. Jane responded, composed a piece and won. She said if it hadn’t been for IWJ, she would have never known about this opportunity. She was awarded a trip to Italy to accept her honors through this competition.

Jane is still an active member today and is an inspirational person to have in our organization. Every Wednesday, she sends words of wisdom to the membership, which I look forward to.

We also have legendary members such as Bertha Hope, an accomplished pianist, composer, band leader, and educator in her own right, whose late husband, Elmo Hope, was an acclaimed jazz musician.

This story is one of our highlights, but there are so many. We have Grammy award winners, including Catherine Russell, and Grammy considerations, such as advisory board chairperson and vocalist Antoinette Montague. We also have Joan Watson-Jones, who performs and promotes jazz on her podcasts. We are honored to have our matriarch, Broadway composer and quintessential entertainer Emme Kemp.

We also have legendary members such as Bertha Hope, an accomplished pianist, composer, band leader, and educator in her own right, whose late husband, Elmo Hope, was an acclaimed jazz musician. She adds his music to her repertoire. Other members include young adult Mimi Block, an emerging vocalist and violinist, and Mauricio de Sousa, a great Brazilian drummer who is one of our male members. All our members and their talents are the artistic ingredients that makeup IWJ. Through the organization, they pass on their knowledge to others.

Vocalist and violinist Mimi Block at the IWJ Showcase. Photo by Nahja Noon.

What is your most outstanding achievement or contribution to the community?

We did a first-time presentation for Women’s History Month in 2023 at the Godard Riverside Community Center NYC. Our goal was to reintroduce IWJ to the community after the pandemic. I live in this community, and the show was sold out. We put together the annual International Women in Jazz Festival one month later. It was back-to-back work, but I felt it was important to produce to honor our musicians and to keep the jazz juices flowing.

We held the 2023 International Women in Jazz Festival at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music in New York City. Our community looks forward to this major fundraiser every year. We had a great festival. On the day of the festival, there was a 24-hour wind and rain downpour that wouldn’t stop, but people still came out to support us. I guess you can’t keep a good jazz fan down! We are proud to have people of all ages involved, and we feel so firmly embedded in the communities we serve.

Our most recent achievement was with Stop & Shop in August, when we were selected as the beneficiary of the Community Bag Program. I never expected to break the nine-and-a-half-year record of one month’s sales. It was a surprise and an honor. Stop & Shop supermarket in Yonkers, NY, gave us the opportunity to increase and fine-tune our marketing skills and visibility. The community benefited and supported us. It was a win-win for all.

What do you want people to know about International Women in Jazz?

I want people, especially female musicians, to know we welcome emerging, current, and legendary artists. We have an inclusive membership of all ages, ethnicities, and genders. We focus on diversity. People even come without speaking English; they just play music, the universal language. Through music, people connect.

Performing at the 2023 IWJ Holiday Party are Ghanniyya Green, vocalist; Bertha Hope, pianist; Irish Ornig, bassist; Kaori Yamada, drums; and Clair Delisser, horn. Photo by City’s Dream Performula.

How are you using the funds you’ve received from the Stop & Shop Community Bag Program?

I want to continue involving and educating the community and members through our platform performances and continue supporting members by hosting more workshops. Laws have changed, and I want our members to know how to write, sign, and negotiate a contract so they can protect themselves as artists. The Stop & Shop donation will contribute to these projects.

We closed out a memorable 2023 with a holiday event at the NY Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center Plaza, where we shared goodwill and were united through music.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

My focus is on the value of International Women in Jazz and its return on investment, which is immeasurable and invaluable. As president of this organization, it is an honor to serve, instill, and continue performing blues and jazz music worldwide. Mapped from African cultures, African American music, and the American Songbook, the influences are many, but the opportunities are great. Cultivate positive relationships and partnerships, and remember to thank your dedicated volunteers throughout the journey. The world today may seem divisive, but music provides an avenue that brings us together. Music is healing.

The world today may seem divisive, but music provides an avenue that brings us together.

I want to encourage all organizations to follow and participate in social and environmental activities. Support nonprofit organizations, especially during these challenging times. Please visit our website at Become a member. Donate online and keep up with IWJ on Facebook and social media. We need and appreciate your support.

We thank Stop and Shop for the opportunity to share our story and vision for generations to come.

Jacqueline Lennon is the President of International Women in Jazz and also a vocalist.

Published January 5, 2024.