My guest for Episode 12 is trumpet player and long-time advocate for women in jazz, Ellen Seeling. A Milwaukee native, Ellen was the first woman to earn a degree in Jazz Studies from Indiana University. In 1975 she moved to New York City, where she worked with the likes of The Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, Machito, the Slide Hampton Big Band, Luther Vandross, Laura Nyro, The Temptations, Isis and Martha Reeves, among countlessothers.
In 1980, Ellen and her now-wife, saxophonist and composer Jean Fineberg, formed the jazz fusion band DEUCE, recording two albums, and touring all over the United States. In 1989 the two relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area where they continued to play with DEUCE and several other ensembles, and in 1998 Ellen founded the Montclair Women’s Big Band, in an effort to provide greater visibility for the Bay Area community of women jazz artists. Ellen also spent many years teaching at the University of California, Berkeley, and the Jazzschool in Berkeley, California, and has held teaching positions at a number of other universities and events including Indiana University, Pennsylvania State University and the Kansas City Women’s Jazz Festival.
In 2009 Ellen founded and co-directed the United States’ first summer jazz camp for girls, the Girls’ Jazz & Blues Camp, featuring a women’s faculty from the Montclair Women’s Big Band. Then, in 2015, Ellen co-founded Jazzwomen and Girls Advocates, in an effort to address the systemic and historic gender discrimination in jazz. Thus far, the organisation has consulted with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, playing a role in their adoption of new hiring processes, and also helped to encourage the Monterey Jazz Festival’s 500% increase in women instrumentalists programmed for its 2018 edition.
Ellen and I caught up via Zoom in early April to discuss her experience coming up as a young female trumpet player in the late 1960s and early ‘70s; being invited to play professionally with the all-women jazz-rock band Isis and the legendary Laura Nyro while she was still in college; her experience living and working in New York for almost 15 years, often playing with otherwise all-male bands and orchestras; her work with Jazzwomen and Girls Advocates, in particular their lobbying of Jazz at Lincoln Center and Monterey Jazz Festival; and some of the music that has inspired her over her career.