“Jazz is for everyone”: BHS Jazz Girls Day continues its legacy of education


On Saturday, March 9, 2024, Berkeley High School Jazz hosted the 13th annual JazzGirls Day from 2:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. in the A-Building. The event invited female and non-binary musicians in elementary and middle school to learn and play music with female and non-binary high school and professional musicians. The event was centered around introducing younger musicians to playing improvised jazz, which means that students did not need any prior jazz experience./

The event had four main parts, with time in between for registration and a cupcake break. From 2:15 p.m. to 2:35 p.m., attendees were introduced to the program and a small group of high school musicians played. For the next 30 minutes, attendees engaged in a drum circle led by one of the professional musician clinicians. Between 3:10 p.m. and 4:10 p.m., musicians split off into five different groups that focused on improvisation and other jazz concepts. After a short break, students were able to hear all of the clinicians playing together in a jam. Throughout, students could enter into a raffle to win full or partial scholarships to different music camps in the Bay Area.

Sarah Cline, the BHS Jazz Director, recalled for her audience the origins of JazzGirls day, “When I was a student here, there were two girls in the jazz ensemble, … and when I came back 30 years later to be the director, there were two girls. Nothing had gotten better in (those) 30 years,” Cline said. “The two young women who were in the band wanted to do something to try and encourage others to come because it wasn’t like there weren’t people playing instruments, right? So we came up with JazzGirls day, and that was 13 years ago.”

According to Cline, the percentage of musicians in the jazz program has tripled since the launch of JazzGirls day, from 10 percent women to 30 percent. However, BHS Jazz has still not met its overall goal of having 50 percent women in its program.

Since its creation, other jazz educators have adopted JazzGirls day. “It has expanded in that people have copied it all over the world,” Cline said. It now exists in places like Vienna, South Carolina, New York, New Orleans, and San Francisco.

Besides the many students, mentors, and clinicians that engaged in this event, parent volunteers also helped to run it. Molly Lynch, a parent volunteer at the event, said, “I think … that many, like 70 percent, of jazz musicians are men or male-identifying people. So I do think that there is a ways to go in terms of getting it to be 50-50.” Lynch added that less women and non-binary students are present in the more advanced high school bands. “It makes me kind of wonder why that is, and if there’s something that we can do to kind of get it to be more equal,” Lynch said.

Cynthia Ona-Innis, a parent volunteer photographing the event also discussed gender inequality in the music and jazz industry. “Statistically, there aren’t a lot of girls involved in jazz (and) in music. Having a community that comes together on a Saturday with professional musicians, teenage mentors, and kids who are just starting out, it’s really important for them to explore different types of music,” Ona-Innis said.

Abby Ejigu, another parent volunteer, acknowledged the effect that this event has on gender inclusivity and equality. “I think what’s important is that it’s situating females to take a place in jazz here at Berkeley High (School),” Ejigu said. “It’s planting a seed in the younger ones’ mind that jazz is for everyone.”

Elliott Martens, a drummer and high school mentor for the event, discussed how events like these can also increase equality for gender-nonconforming people. “I identify as non-binary, (and) there’s like no famous non-binary musicians, so if I can help change that I’d be happy with myself,” Martens said.

Irene Sazer, a professional music teacher, detailed how this day can raise participation among female and non-binary students at BHS. “The idea is to get these girls in here, participating during middle school so that they can feel invited and empowered to join the BHS Jazz program, which is phenomenal,” Sazer said.

Magdelys Savigne and Elizabeth Rodriguez, musicians from the band Okan, were invited to mentor at JazzGirls day said, “(The importance is) representation: (girls) can see that there are other women doing the business that they would like to pursue.”