A recent review of one of the performances at this year’s Jazzfest gave me pause to think about what I love about music.  Too often, artists are judged by the wrong standards, standards to which artistic merit and accomplishment simply cannot be measured.  Where so many decide to talk about melodies, chord progressions, complex and innovative composing and technique, we could be focusing on what is important in the world of aural excellence.  Naturally, I’m talking about the body of a musician.  In fact, one body-part in particular, the arms.

I was all but lost in a sea of blogs and reviews of jazzfest performances going on and on about repertoire, tone, invention, and of course, the choices made for who will play with whom and to what end.  Thankfully, one lone sheep in the herd made a point of discussing the very talented and deeply inspiring arms of Maria Schneider.  At length.

(update: the review has been taken down, but a cached version lives on here: 
https://web.archive.org/web/20101231020244/http://communities.canada.com/montrealgazette/blogs/wordsandmusic/archive/2009/07/02/maria-with-the-long-bare-arms.aspx)

It was such a relief to see this review.  I must admit, I love Maria Schneider’s arms and I wanted to discuss their musical acumen in depth in my arts magazine, but fear of my staunchly feminist editor who might misinterpret the discussion of an accomplished composer’s body as “misogynistic” and “irrelevant” kept me silent.  Not so at the only English newspaper in Montreal!  They were unafraid of discussing Ms. Schneider’s arms through most of the piece and even in the title.  Thank goodness someone out there finally knows how to write about the finer points of music.

I said it already; I love Maria Schneider’s arms.  Have you seen her conducting?  Her music reaches heights only dreamed of by other composers and she firmly and powerfully directs the flow of a mighty river of sound being created by some of the best performers around with those strong jazz biceps of hers.  Watching her conduct her own music and then introduce soloists is as close as anyone can get to actually hearing jazz with their eyes.  It’s no surprise Donny McCaslin was first nominated for a Grammy as a soloist with her orchestra.  Maria Schneider’s arms are jazz and worth every cent it costs to see her.

This type of deep, penetrative musical analysis tends to happen upon other female musicians, and often, I’ve been concerned about appearing too “focused on the body” and “totally missing the point of music reviews” to bother to talk about the physical appearance of the women I respect in jazz.  So now that the floodgates are open, let me impress upon you how much I appreciate the musical arms of many other noteworthy women composers.

Amanda Tosoff, a pianist from B.C. has won many accolades and awards at a very young age and continues to impress with her new album, Still Life.  Her arms are magnificent as they carry her dexterous fingers across her piano’s keys to produce whimsical and innovative music.  Vanessa Rodrigues is a Hammond B3 organ diva who creates modern sounds without losing the soul of her venerable instrument.  The triceps on this lady bring new meaning to “accomplished musician”.

I have to stop here and talk about Esperanza Spalding.  Her arms running up and down that doublebass while she sings is nothing short of exceptional.  Marie-Fatima Rudolf’s arms are thin and belie the power that she evokes when her fingers touch the keyboard.  If you listen to jazz with your eyes open, you’ll be impressed by the sheer complexity of sound that Rudolf produces with such supple limbs.  When Anna Webber plays her flute, her arms almost float towards the keys, making room to watch her hips twist along with her unlikely and fascinating melodies.  Her tenor playing lets her get down and flex for the audience, a treat for any jazz aficionado.  I could go on about Laila Biali, Ingrid Jensen, Mistress Barbara, Killa Jewel, Kaki King, Anat Cohen and more.  As it is, I just finally feel like we’ve gotten to the heart of inspiring, accomplished women jazz musicians.  May their timeless limbs, like their tunes, carry our emotions and artistic appreciation to new heights.

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