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‘The music speaks for itself’: Athenaeum’s Daniel Atkinson highlights women in jazz with upcoming festival

The band Artemis will perform Friday, June 3, as part of the Women in Jazz festival at The Alexandria at Torrey Pines.
(Keith Major)

Local jazz aficionado Daniel Atkinson will present a two-day festival called Women in Jazz next week through his San Diego Jazz Ventures, an organization he launched a year ago to bring more jazz to the region.

The mini festival kicks off Friday, June 3, with Artemis, an all-female band made up of Renee Rosnes, Ingrid Jensen, Anat Cohen, Nicole Glover, Noriko Ueda and Allison Miller.

Day 2 on Saturday, June 4, will feature Grammy Award-nominated vocalist Thana Alexa.

Both concerts will be held in the 200-seat Illumina Theater at The Alexandria at Torrey Pines, just east of The Lodge at Torrey Pines.

The musicians of Artemis are “some of the top artists on their instruments, regardless of whether it’s a man or a woman, that are playing today,” said Atkinson, who has directed the jazz program at La Jolla’s Athenaeum Music & Arts Library for decades.

Alexa makes use of looping technology that allows her to “basically sing with herself over tracks that she’s recording as she goes,” Atkinson said, resulting in music that is “really fascinating and beautifully executed.”

Her June 4 concert here is part of a tour that has been rescheduled four times since 2020 because of COVID-19. Alexa and her husband, Grammy-winning drummer Antonio Sanchez, contracted the virus in early May after performing in Florida and Louisiana

The genesis of the festival goes back to Atkinson attending a jazz conference in Barcelona, during which a presentation on the imbalance of male to female musicians in jazz had him pledging to change the ratio.

“Jazz historically has had a tendency to underrepresent women in general and women instrumentalists in particular,” he said. “It’s something that needs to be corrected. … It’s important to make the effort and make the statement that there is no kind of talent gap there.”

Daniel Atkinson will present the Women in Jazz festival June 3-4 through his San Diego Jazz Ventures.
(Eduardo Contreras / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Atkinson said the talent of the musicians he invited to the Women in Jazz festival “speaks for itself.”

Rosnes, Artemis’ musical director, said opening the festival is a thrill that the band, which has never played in San Diego as an entire group, is looking forward to.

She said the band’s program June 3 will consist of original and classic jazz material. “The large majority of what we play is original music written by all of us in the band,” she said.

“We’re just looking forward to getting out there,” especially after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down live performances for an extended time, she said. “It’s just so refreshing, and we feel joy onstage and we feel the joy in the energy from the audience.”

She said none of the band’s members, who hail from the United States, Canada, Israel and Japan, give much thought about the group being all female.

“The reason we’re playing together is because we enjoy playing together and we happen to be women,” Rosnes said. “We would love to come to a point in history where it’s not necessary to mention our gender. We’d like to have the music speak for itself.”

Vocalist Thana Alexa will perform Saturday, June 4, during the Women in Jazz festival.
(Courtesy of Thana Alexa)

Alexa, was who born in New York City to Croatian parents and was raised in the United States and Croatia, says the underrepresentation of female jazz artists is similar to that in other industries.

“There have always been women musicians,” she said. “There have always been women composers, there have always been women instrumentalists, vocalists, producers, engineers, all of these things. … It’s just that we’re making more of an effort as a society to find them and then heighten their voices and the stories they’re telling.”

Being included in Atkinson’s festival is an honor, she said, especially with Artemis, “the leading women in this genre at the moment.”

Alexa said she feels grateful that the festival coincides with her “personal project — my wanting to discover who I am as a woman and what that makes me feel like and how I’ve experienced the world.”

Alexa’s June 4 program, her first performance in San Diego, is based on her album “Ona,” the Croatian word for “she.”

The album was inspired by women’s stories and is dedicated to “the women who cross-generationally and cross-culturally went through many different kinds of experiences to get me to the place where I am,” she said.

Atkinson, a Grammy-nominated producer, said the ultimate goal for San Diego Jazz Ventures is to create a local jazz festival, as there hasn’t been one in San Diego since the mid-1980s.

“We’re definitely overripe for that,” he said.

Women in Jazz festival

When:

• Artemis, 6 p.m. Friday, June 3

• Thana Alexa, 6 p.m. Saturday, June 4

Where: Illumina Theater, The Alexandria at Torrey Pines, 10996 Torreyana Road

Cost: $50 and up

Information: sdjazzventures.org