Long known as an insular boy’s club, the jazz world has seen few female artists among its ranks. “There is this umbrella of heavyweight guys who have embraced and nurtured each other,” says keyboard player and vocalist Gail Jhonson. As the leader of the ensemble “Jazz in Pink,” Jhonson is out to upset that tradition one gig at a time.
Next up on Saturday is the all-female jazz band’s New York debut at Molloy College’s Madison Theatre in Rockville Centre. Joining the “First Lady of Smooth Jazz,” a distinction, Jhonson says, she has worked hard to achieve, are virtuoso instrumentalists Karen Briggs (violin), Mariea Antoinette (harp) and Jazmin Ghent (saxophone).
“We have our own separate careers,” Jhonson says. “Together on the same stage, we showcase all we have to offer individually and are a real powerhouse. It is more than just a band, but an experience.”
That experience is for the musicians as much as their audience. Over the past decade, Jazz in Pink, among only a handful of female jazz groups nationwide, has become a “club” of its own, providing a platform for its members to support each other and expand their exposure.
“We want to show women that they can make music their choice,” Jhonson says. “There are a lot of serious girls out there.”
While most who do perform play funk or rock, she adds, there is no reason to perpetuate the myth of jazz as a masculine realm. To that end, Jazz in Pink’s playlist includes a sweeping pastiche of smooth, classical and straight-ahead selections.
“And when we want to swing, we can swing,” Jhonson says. “When we want to bebop, we bebop.”
The ensemble will be doing all that and more, including friendly nightclub banter designed to make Jazz in Pink’s appearance at the 550-seat theater feel like an intimate parlor show, says Madison Theatre's artistic director, Angelo Fraboni, who has been the driving force behind the theater since its inception in 2011.
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Fraboni sees Jazz in Pink as a perfect fit for Madison Theatre’s performance program, which boasts a series of jazz concerts each season. In light of the school’s beginnings — “Molloy began as an all-female college, with nuns and nurses putting on shows for the student body and community,” he says — and the designation of March as Women’s History Month, Fraboni is pleased to be featuring the world-class female musicians.
“They are underappreciated, always playing second fiddle to big-name male artists,” he says of booking Jazz in Pink as one of the theater’s headliners. “I want to help even the playing field.”
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Saturday, Madison Theatre at Molloy College, 1000 Hempstead Ave., Rockville Centre
INFO $45-$95; 516-323-4444, madisontheatreny.org