LGBT musicians have made vast contributions to the jazz world, both in composition and performance fields – many of the best known songs were written and sung by LGBT musicians, and yet there has until relatively recently been a culture of homophobia within the jazz scene. Many of these musicians weren’t out and proud until late in life as they were worried about losing work, record deals and fans, and there are surely many musicians who never came out about their sexuality at all for this very reason.
The situation is getting better in the jazz scene, however there are still musicians worried about being themselves, so now’s the time to talk about how incredible these musicians were and promote acceptance and love!
Here are five of my favourite LGBT jazz musicians in no particular order→
The foremost vibraphonist in jazz history, Gary has performed with all the greats, including Stan Getz and Chick Corea. As a composer he has written a vast number of tunes which are now part of the jazz repertoire and his playing ushered in a new way of playing the vibraphone.
The Mother of the Blues herself, she was one of the best loved blues singers of the early 20th century, she made 100s of recordings and performed with musicians such as Louis Armstrong. She was bravely openly bisexual and even wrote songs with lyrics expressing this, such as ‘Prove it on me Blues’!
Fred Hersch plays piano with one of the most beautiful touches ever recorded. His music is unfailingly beautiful throughout and his solo piano recordings have become some of the best loved examples of the genre. In the 80s he was treated for HIV and his public declaration of this was an incredibly important moment in jazz LGBT history, it started a change in opinion which made other musicians more comfortable to come out and express themselves.
Cecil was a pianist heavily involved in the free jazz movement of the 60s onwards, he collaborated with musicians such as Elvin Jones and Dewet Redman and produced numerous innovative records. He was ousted by a reporter in 1982 and his response was to say ‘Do you think a three-letter word defines the complexity of my humanity? I avoid the trap of easy definition.’
Stéphane was the French violinist who joined with Django Reinhardt to form the Quintette du Hot Club de Paris, the most celebrated and imitated gypsy jazz band in existence. He was easily the best known jazz violinist and his style and way of playing was hugely influential and unheard of, and remains uniquely relevant today.