Women in Improvised Music

Improvisation is not solely tied to one genre of music. The notion of free-form performance is generally tied to jazz, but women in blues, experimental music, and even punk rock have all engaged in off-the-cuff creations. Women are very rarely highlighted for their ability to improvise on stage and in recordings, but everyone from Sarah Vaughan to Patti Smith has made an art of it. Even the quintessential all-female punk band, Bikini Kill, improvised on stage very often as well.

These women embody the art of interacting with their audience as if they were interacting with their fellow musicians. When Nina Simone played her many interludes (before, after, and in between her rehearsed music), you felt electricity in the air. Her fingers flew across the keyboard with the ease of a sultry virtuoso, and her declarations were jarring, honest, and, at times, slightly demented. Improvisation is what pushed funk-music queen Betty Davis over the top, and it’s what made avant-garde vocalist Pamela Z and jazz pianist Geri Allen masters of their respective crafts.

When women improvise, you get to see their raw talent in action and gaze into the innermost depths of their personal creativity. That’s why these women are being highlighted here: They gave their audiences, their stages, their instruments, and microphones everything they had, and they should be recognized accordingly.