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Huntsville jazz festival to celebrate female musicians in Alabama, Southeast


A local arts festival in the Rocket City turns 10 years old in 2023, and hundreds of people are expected to attend the event this weekend.

The annual Alabama Women in Jazz Festival will take place September 8-9 at the Bob Harrison Center off Pulaski Pike in Northwest Huntsville. Visitors get the chance to hear the sounds of various woodwind, brass, string and electric instruments over the course of the event’s two days. The event will be held under the leadership of Commissioner Violet Edwards, who became the first Black woman to serve on the Madison County Commission in 2020.

Festivities will begin at 6:00 p.m. Friday with a kickoff performance from 24-time award-winning traditional blues artist, DieDra. The Alabama native has been inducted in the Alabama Blues Hall of Fame and is colloquially known by residents as the Alabama Blues Queen.

Activities will resume Saturday morning with a workshop hosted by Nashville-based saxophonist, composer and multi-instrumentalist, Monica Shriver, from 11 a.m. to noon. The workshop aims to help local youth, emerging musicians and music educators explore the ins and outs of music composition. The performance activity is free of charge. Shriver will take to the stage later that day to perform live as part of the Monica Shriver Quintet. Shriver is not the only female musician performing Saturday. Tiffany Goode will also perform with her instrument of choice: the trumpet. Later, JaVonne Jones and Frank B. will perform as a duo. Jones will play the electric violin, while Frank B. will play the saxophone. Performances will conclude at 9 p.m. that night.

Patrice Bivins/Valley Arts and Entertainment

“These guys are really hot. It’s just going to be a really great lineup of performers,” said Patrice Bivins, festival founder and executive director. “It’s very eclectic. I call this one of my most eclectic groups so far because it’s blues, it’s jazz fusion, it’s straight-ahead jazz and other styles. We’re excited about the performances we’ll hear this year.”

However, the Alabama Women in Jazz Festival is more than just listening to music. Several vendors will be on site offering everything from handmade crafts to barbecue to mocktails. The vendors lineup on Saturday is from 6 to 9 p.m.

“This is a celebration. We’re going to have some acknowledgments, participant handouts and a VIP area,” Bivins said. “Every year, we have a really good lineup of vendors. We have a meet and greet. Our attendees can get up, take their shoes off and dance in the streets, as we call it. We go around and we’re able to acknowledge each vendor, and vendors can tell attendees what they do and who they are.”

Bivins began planning the festival back in 2013. That’s when she said she had a revelation.

“Honestly, I had no idea I’d be founding a jazz festival,” she said. “A friend of mine was here, and we had gone to see some fabulous players in Birmingham. [At that time], I was really doing mostly performing arts, of students singing or students playing. And [my friend], she said to me, ‘Oh my god. You should do a jazz festival. Does Huntsville have a jazz festival? Do they have a women’s music department?’ [I said], ‘Well no! Not that I know of.’ That’s when I came together with people and started thinking about it. That’s how we really began.”

Bivins said the main mission of the festival is to promote and understand the work of local female artists.

“That’s the key work, the work of women artists, whether it be jazz, R&B or whatever the work is that they put in their career. That kind of sums up why we host this,” she said.

A portion of this year’s funds will go to benefit the student educational programs offered by Valley Arts and Entertainment, which is a local nonprofit that Bivins also founded. The nonprofit provides programs designed to engage and promote the careers of emerging and established artists. One of the services the organization offers is the Valley Arts Piano Program. The program targets low-income children and families and offers them free piano lessons without charge or other music lessons at minimal charge.

Valley Arts and Entertainment also partners with city entities like the Huntsville Housing Authority to ensure children and families are surrounded by music.

“We provide meaningful encounters of musical excellence like in schools and other community organizations to underserved, multi-generational audiences,” Bivins said. “Our call to action is education and outreach. You think there are kids who go to school and they know music. You think that everyone is privy or around a lot of music, and you’d be surprised. They really are not. We also find several local universities who have music students and departments. It gives them a chance to come out, teach and become familiar with [where they live]. It’s just a great partnership.”

Beyond fundraising, Bivins said the Alabama Women in Jazz Festival helps the community in two ways. Firstly, she said it adds to Huntsville’s already vast musical history.

“Huntsville is a city with deep musical tradition,” she said. “With all the new ecosystems in music we’re [seeing] recently in Huntsville, I know this program is one that is very important because, I believe, when you establish and develop something, it reaches other platforms and is inspirational. It inspires other people to begin to showcase some of the things they do. I definitely feel that the Women in Jazz Festival has been important in inspiring other women’s programs within the city and outside the city to become a part of the deep musical tradition that Huntsville had, haves and will continue to have.”

Bivins said the event also helps counteract the underrepresentation of female instrumentalists in jazz music.

“[Women] traditionally struggle with recognition and even with employment,” she said. “If you ask someone, ‘Who’s your favorite jazz artist, or who’s your favorite female jazz artist?’ the first thing they’re going to say is, ‘I love Sarah Vaughan. I love Ella Fitzgerald.’ But you don’t hear them say, ‘I love Sheila E. She can wail on those drums’ or any of the other female players. While we do focus on female vocalists, it’s important to [support] the players. Women in jazz are underrepresented.”

Valley Arts and Entertainment’s Women in Jazz Festival is one of the few Women in Jazz programs across the country. Programs can be found in Tennessee, New York, California and other states, but this is the only Women in Jazz program found in Alabama. Bivins said it is important to give female instrumentalists the attention they deserve.

“These girls are in band in middle school. They’re learning how to be a drum major. They’re learning how to be a concert pianist. They’re learning saxophone. They’re learning how to play drum. Nobody knows,” she said.

Ultimately, Bivins said the Alabama Women in Jazz Festival positively impacts Huntsville and has impacted the city for quite some time.

“I think we’ve already impacted Huntsville. We have a new music officer who’s doing great things. We have a whole new music theme called the Huntsville Music Month in September, and we’re always included,” she said. “The Women in Jazz program has already found its spot and helped impact. It brings a lot of visibility to women players. It knocks me off my feet when I look at these fabulous women up on stage, and the community is learning to embrace women musicians also.”

Event coordinators expect anywhere from 200 to 400 people to attend this year’s celebration, and Bivins said the crowd is increasingly diverse year after year. In fact, last year’s festival was a full house.

“I was really shocked last year. The dynamic of the age has changed,” she said. “Most of what we find in the jazz arena is baby boomers, but I’ve seen some millennials and Gen Xers. Last year, we had an [uptick in] visitors who were between the 35 and 40 age group. It is growing. When you do events, you have no idea whether it’s going to pack the house, with so many things going on in Huntsville, but we do have followers. Last year, we turned away some people because of the capacity of the venue. We’re not an 8,000-person festival, but we do pack a good crowd, who really love what we do. It’s just an intimate, really good crowd.”

Readers interested in attending this year’s Women in Jazz Festival can purchase tickets online or at the gate. General admission for Friday or Saturday is $15, while VIP tickets are $50. Residents waiting to purchase tickets in person will pay $20 for general admission. Valley Arts and Entertainment is also looking for sponsors, volunteers and donations. Information on each of these topics can be found by visiting

Joshua LeBerte is a news intern for Alabama Public Radio.
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