When Patty Peterson first pitched the idea of the Jazz Women All-Stars to the Twin Cities Jazz Festival in 2016, she wasn’t sure just how well it would be received. But the leaders of the festival were thrilled, even giving the group the chance to play the main stage that year. Peterson was excited to showcase some of the best women in jazz here in the Twin Cities, and the show was a success.
“We were so excited and proud,” Peterson recalled. “I can’t underscore the sound that emanated from that stage and the friendship and camaraderie. It was though we were setting a fresh precedent of it doesn’t have to be about men jazz artists, it can be all women on stage and still have the same respect.”
Ever since that first show in 2016, Peterson has kept the Jazz Women All-Stars going. It’s a way for some of the best jazz musicians to come together and she tries rotate through as many women as she can. The latest configuration of the Jazz Women All-Stars includes Patty Peterson, Judi Vinar, Mary Louise Knutson, Linda Peterson, Sheila Earley, Joan Griffith and Sue Orefield.
Together, they take the stage this Saturday at the Dakota in Minneapolis. When Peterson is on stage with the group, she said, she thinks about the women who have come before her and how she can put a spotlight on the women who keep jazz moving forward.
“My mother when she would play the piano people would say, ‘Oh my, she plays just like a man.’ In other words, strong and creative,” Peterson said. “If I ever dare say that, announcing on stage I say, ‘Close your eyes. Don’t they sound just like,’ and then I leave a pause and say, ‘women.’ That usually goes over really great, and people are blown away by the artistry.”
As one of the group’s longtime members, pianist Mary Louise Knutson has appreciated having the space to play with the group. Even though she is an established member of the Twin Cities jazz scene, she said she is always aware of who makes up the groups she plays in and hopes to see more women get involved in the jazz scene.
“Playing with male-dominated groups over the years, we’re all aware of those experiences and how isolating that can feel,” Knutson said. “It’s nice to have the company of other women and it has felt like a very supportive environment.”
Drummer Sheila Earley, one of the groups rotating members, feels that same connection and said there’s a difference in her playing when she’s with the Jazz Women All-Stars.
“To share that creative process and experience performance with all women there is a leveling of the playing field in terms of being free to say what you want to say on your instrument,” Earley said. “It’s a combination of the high level of musicianship of each member of the group and the ability to really feel free.”
For Peterson, it’s important to her that people see just how much talent women bring to the Twin Cities Jazz scene, and she hopes to keep the group going for years to come.
“This doesn’t only belong to men,” Peterson said. “We come together all pros. The rehearsals are fun and efficient and there’s a lot of love and support of each other’s solo careers. Then to bring what we have created on stage and watch people just close their eyes, smile, maybe shake their head at just how incredible the musicianship is, is very gratifying.”
Simone Cazares is a student at Metropolitan State University. Originally from Miami, Fla., she survives Minnesota’s cruel winters by immersing herself in the Twin Cities music scene.