10 Rising Women Instrumentalists

On The Corner Masthead


March 7, 2018 | by Rusty Aceves

Yissy García

More than ever, monstrously talented young women are rising through the ranks of jazz instrumentalists, challenging the male-dominated status quo. In March 2016 we posted a list of eight rising stars that included the likes of trombonist and vocalist Natalie Cressman, trumpeter Bria Skonberg, and saxophonist Melissa Aldana. In recognition of Women’s History Month 2018, we’ve assembled a new list that spotlights more of the many young masters making waves today.

Mary Halvorson - All About Jazz describes Mary Halvorson as “the most impressive guitarist of her generation.” With an aesthetic firmly planted in the avant-garde, she has led over 20 albums and lent her distinctive tone and melodic approach to work with Anthony Braxton, Yo La Tengo, and a trio project with fellow visionary guitarists Elliott Sharp and Marc Ribot. 

Yissy García - Cuban-born drummer and composer García grew up immersed in the music as the daughter of founding Irakere percussionist Bernardo García. She performed as a soloist with the National Symphonic Orchestra of Cuba at age 15, and has shared the stage with Esperanza Spalding, Roy Hargrove, and Dave Matthews. A master of Afro-Cuban jazz and rock styles, she is a respected educator and and currently leads her own band Bandancha.

Sasha Berliner - A gifted vibraphonist, composer, and social activist, Berliner is a San Francisco native who began on drums at eight and attended the Oakland School for the Arts before becoming a two-year member of the SFJAZZ High School All-Stars. Currently a student of Stefon Harris and Matt Wilson at the New School in New York, Berliner has worked with Beck, Vijay Iyer, Terri Lyne Carrington, Ravi Coltrane, and Jane Ira Bloom, and released her full-length debut album, Azalea, in 2018.

Yazz Ahmed - British-Bahraini trumpeter Ahmed has collaborated with artists including Radiohead and Lee “Scratch” Perry, and has created a personal approach born of her Middle Eastern roots and British upbringing described as “psychedelic Arabic jazz.” Originally inspired by her jazz musician grandfather, she has become a major voice in the exploding London jazz scene that includes Shabaka Hutchings, Sons of Kemet, and Yussef Kamaal, releasing her second album, La Saboteuse.

Camille Thurman - Already acclaimed by DownBeat as a “rising star,” saxophonist and vocalist Thurman was recipient of the Lincoln Center Award for Outstanding Young Artists and a two-time winner of the ASCAP Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composers Award. The New York native has performed alongside Dianne Reeves, Wynton Marsalis & the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Erykah Badu, and Roy Haynes, and has recorded three albums including her latest, a live session featuring Mark Whitfield, Ben Allison, and Billy Drummond.

Nubya Garcia - Among the vanguard of the British scene, London-based tenor saxophonist Garcia brings elements from her Caribbean heritage into her sophisticated au courant approach, mixing spiritual, afro-futurist jazz with hip-hop rhythms and global influences. She is a recipient of the Steve Reid InNOVAtion Award (named for the visionary drummer), appears on influential BBC DJ Gilles Peterson’s new Brownswood Recordings compilation We Out Here, and released her EP When We Are in March 2018.

Allison Au - Based in Toronto, alto saxophonist Au has established herself as a major instrumentalist and composer, releasing two self-produced albums of multifaceted original material that have garnered two Juno Award nominations and a Best Jazz Album of the Year win for her 2016 album Forest Grove. Au and her longstanding quartet won the 2017 Montreal Jazz Festival TD Grand Prix de Jazz and was a 2017 finalist for the Toronto Arts Foundation Emerging Jazz Artist Award.

Jaimie Branch - Listed among Rolling Stone’s June 2017 list of “Ten New Artists You Need to Know,” the New York-based trumpeter relishes free improvisation and avant-garde experimentation, but has made a sizable impact across genre divides. She’s worked with artists ranging from bass legend William Parker and saxophonist Ken Vandermark to adventurous pop acts including Arcade Fire and TV on the Radio. In 2017 year she released her debut album Fly or Die with cellist Tomeka Reid and drummer Chad Taylor.

Tomeka Reid - Chicago cellist Tomeka Reid has built a well-deserved reputation as a fiercely creative improvisor and composer. A veteran of collaboration with fellow sonic adventurers Roscoe Mitchell, Anthony Braxton, Tyler Ho Bynum, Nicole Mitchell, George Lewis and Myra Melford, Reid is affiliated with the Chicago’s legendary AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) and leads a telepathic quartet with guitarist Mary Halvorson, bassist Jason Roebke, and drummer Tomas Fujiwara.

Sharel Cassity - Since graduating from Julliard in 2007, Chicago-based saxophonist and composer Sharel Cassity has built a résumé that would be the envy of artists three times her age. She was listed in DownBeat’s Critics Poll for Rising Star Saxophone for seven consecutive years and has worked with an incredible roster of greats, from Roy Hargrove and Cyrus Chestnut to Aretha Franklin and Natalie Merchant. She leads a superb quartet and has recorded four albums as a leader including her latest, Elektra.

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