Name: Carolyn Glenn Brewer
Book Title: Changing the Tune, the Kansas City Women’s Jazz Festival, 1978-1985
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What is your book about?
The Kansas City Women’s Jazz Festival was the first jazz festival run by women. It challenged the pervasive attitude that jazz was a boys’ club by focusing on female players and opening up opportunities for both seasoned musicians and emerging talents. By proving jazz genderless these yearly festivals changed the face and the course of jazz history.
What inspired you to write your book?
I interviewed the two founders of this festival, Carol Comer and Dianne Gregg, for another project and when they suggested I write a book about the importance of the Women’s Jazz Festival, I thought it was a great idea, so I did.
Can you describe your writing process?
I love doing the research for my social history books. I love digging through old magazines and newspapers and trying to blanket myself with the feel of the time I’m writing about. The music books are the most fun because that means I also get to listen to lots and lots of CDs from the period. I also do scores of personal interviews. When I’ve filled my study—and my head—with material, I start with an outline and then start telling the story.
How did you come to do what you’re doing today?
My educational background is in music education, but I always took lots of history classes too. Besides teaching music all my adult life, I’ve spent a lot of time researching historical events that affected my family, and writing about those events. I’m always on the lookout for stories, but I seem to gravitate to those centered around jazz.
Can you describe a typical day in your life?
I’m a grade school and middle school band director, but my bands meet before and after school, so the middle part of the day is writing time. I’ve settled into a schedule that allows me time to hang out in libraries and archives, conduct interviews, and read, plus practice my own instrument. The band kids get my full attention during the bookend hours of the day.
What do you most enjoy about what you do?
Everyone has a place in history. So many of us were part of a historical event that has been buried and forgotten. If I can tell stories that bring those events back to the surface and connect readers to that time, I feel good about that.
Are there any people and/or books that have inspired you along your journey?
Everyone I interview inspires me. I’ve written two books about an F-5 tornado that destroyed the community I grew up in (one from the perspective of adults, and one from the perspective of children) and the courage, spirit, and resiliency the survivors showed serves as an example for us all. The musician interviews underscore the power music has to feed our souls.
I love the books of David McCullough and Doris Kearns Goodwin. Paul de Barros’s book about Marian McPartland, Shall We Play That One Together, and Linda Dahl’s Morning Glory, about Mary Lou Williams, were both very insightful as I pieced the story of the Women’s Jazz Festival together.
Can you share something that people may be surprised to learn about you?
Although all the writing I’ve done about music is jazz related, I’m an orchestral clarinet player.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on a book about the teenage years of guitarist Pat Metheny and the incredible Kansas City jazz musicians he apprenticed with.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
All of our lives are so busy that it’s easy to forget how important it is to reflect on where we’ve been. Books are still the best way to connect to our past.
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