Qualitative Sociology

, Volume 41, Issue 3, pp 445–471 | Cite as

Almost Like a Real Band: Navigating a Gendered Jazz Art World

  • Chelsea WahlEmail author
  • Stephen Ellingson


Professional jazz has been organized around two contradictory cultures. Historically, the jazz art world has followed norms of meritocracy, which promote equality across boundaries of race and class. At the same time a culture of exclusivity, anchored in gendered essentialism, has severely limited female participation. By analyzing interview data with artists from the Hamilton College Jazz Archive, we illustrate how these contradictory cultures of inclusion and exclusion operate to channel women into feminized roles in the jazz world. We then discuss how women employ a number of strategies to work around the culture of exclusivity and capitalize on the norms and values of musical meritocracy. Despite institutional openings in professional jazz that emerged following the women’s movement, female jazz artists continue to face strong barriers toward full equality in the jazz world. Although female artists consistently demonstrate that they possess equal musical skills to male musicians according to the norms of meritocracy that guide professional jazz, women remain on the margins of the jazz art world.


Music Jazz Gender Occupations Archival interview data 



This research was supported by the Kirkland Endowment at Hamilton College. The authors would like to thank Tyler Baldor, Dan Chambliss, Kayla and Taylor Coe, Ben DiCicco-Bloom, Elly Field, David Grazian, Peter Harvey, Jaime Kucinskas, Robin Leidner, Monk Rowe, Robin Vanderwall, and Yvonne Zylan for their help and support.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA
  2. 2.Hamilton CollegeClintonUSA

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