Kate Labiak is feeling “over the moon” about the success of her all-girls 8th grade jazz ensemble. This is the second year for the Edmonds group, which had its unlikely beginning as an observation Kate made while attending the prestigious “Essentially Ellington Festival” in New York several years ago. The festival showcases the top young jazz musicians from around the U.S. — and it’s the dream of every high school jazz band to be chosen to perform there.
“As band director for College Place Middle School, I often attend the New York Festival, Labiak said, “but several years ago it struck me that it was actually an all boys event – I could find only one girl among the several hundred student musicians in attendance!”
“After researching I learned the main reason why 8th grade girls do not often enroll in high school jazz bands was not lack of interest or skill,” Labiak continued, “but simple shyness at playing improvisation in front of boys. Boys are just less inhibited about the requirements of jazz.”
Labiak immediately set about designing a program to change girls’ perception of jazz. This year, 22 girls from around the Edmonds School District — each chosen by their individual band director — meet every Wednesday evening from March through May to perfect the art of improvisation and how to take the musical “risks” necessary to play jazz within the group’s supportive environment, away from the classroom.
“And it’s working,” Labiak said proudly. “The girls are becoming Ellington Festival quality.”
The all-girls jazz band is made possible by the support from the Edmonds Jazz Connection Music Lab program and the annual music festival sponsored by the Edmonds Daybreakers Rotary Club.
“We’re very excited to use the Jazz Connection ‘Music Lab’ program to find and support opportunities like Kate’s innovative program for girls jazz,” said Rotarian Chris Lindberg, Jazz Connection chairman. Rotary has partnered with the Foundation for the Edmonds School District to develop an annual recurring fund, which is used to partner with the district on these programs.
“Her idea of pairing young girl musicians with adult women musicians to create an environment where the girls can achieve success both in music and leadership is the purpose of our work…it’s what we do,” Lindberg said.
So now that you know the story, keep an eye out for our very own Edmonds All-Girl Jazz Band as they “show their stuff” at the Jazz Connection on May 20.
Admission is free – and for those who feel “inspired,” donations to the program can be made at any of the venues. Big bands will perform at the Edmonds Center for the Arts, chorals will be performing at Holy Rosary Parish, and smaller combos at Edmonds Theater.
For more information, visit jazzconnection.org.
— By Karen Shiveley, Edmonds Daybreakers Rotary Club