Changing the Tune
Even though the potential passage of the Equal Rights Amendment had
cracked glass ceilings across the country, in 1978 jazz remained a boys’
club. Two Kansas City women, Carol Comer and Dianne Gregg, challenged
that inequitable standard. With the support of jazz luminaries Marian
McPartland and Leonard Feather, inaugural performances by Betty Carter,
Mary Lou Williams, an unprecedented All-Star band of women, Toshiko
Akiyoshi’s band, plus dozens of Kansas City musicians and volunteers, a
casual conversation between two friends evolved into the annual Kansas
City Women’s Jazz Festival (WJF).
But with success came controversy. Anxious to satisfy fans of all jazz
styles, WJF alienated some purists. The inclusion of male sidemen
brought on protests. The egos of established, seasoned players
unexpectedly clashed with those of newcomers. Undaunted, Comer, Gregg,
and WJF’s ensemble of supporters continued the cause for eight years.
They fought for equality not with speeches but with swing, without
protest signs but with bebop.
For the first book about this groundbreaking festival, Carolyn Glenn
Brewer interviewed dozens of people and dove deeply into the archives.
This book is an important testament to the ability of two friends to
emphatically prove jazz genderless, thereby changing the course of jazz
“In Carolyn Glenn Brewer’s book, Changing the Tune, we get to
experience a well-documented account about the many notable women who
lent their voices to the world of jazz. Thank you for helping to erase
the stigma women musicians experience by exposing this inspiring
organization and its contributions to women in music.” —Ellen Johnson,
vocalist, producer and author of Jazz Child: A Portrait of Sheila
Photos on the cover are of Mary Osborne, photograph by Paul Smith; Betty
Carter, photograph by Bob Barrett; and Toshiko Akiyoshi, photograph by
Bob Barrett. Used by permission.