After five successful years, the Palm Springs Women’s Jazz Festival took a hiatus in 2018.
“We got off to a very good start and picked up a nice audience,” said Gail Christian, one of the producers. “Then after a couple of years, our audience wasn’t growing.
“The problem is that jazz is really only 2 percent of the music audience—and then (we were slicing) that even smaller, into women’s jazz. We felt that we needed to put more in the mix to bring a larger audience in. As much as people liked our events, not everyone was a jazz fan.”
Thus, Palm Springs Women’s Week was born. The inaugural week will take place Sunday, Sept. 29, through Sunday, Oct. 6, at venues across the Coachella Valley. The week is being billed as “a celebration of lesbian culture and thought”—although all people, men included, are welcome—and includes art, parties, lectures, dance, singing and all sorts of other events. The week includes the return of the Women’s Jazz Festival, on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 4 and 5, and the L-Fund Golf Tournament, taking place Saturday, Oct. 5.
The week is produced by Christian and her partner, Lucy DeBardelaben.
“We call ourselves producers and promoters, but that’s not what really what we consider ourselves to be,” Christian said. “We consider ourselves to be activists. Lucy and I have a long history of being involved in feminist events, lesbian events. But we really see ourselves as political activists, and everything that we do on some level is politically centered. Like the Jazz Festival, for instance: While it’s about music, it’s about women musicians and how they are underpaid and underserved in their profession. The whole idea is not only to have an audience come, but for these players to get paid.
“Having said that, there are all sorts of other events we decided we would like to do that never seemed to make it to the drawing board. Out of all that came an idea: Why don’t we take the Jazz Festival and a lot of these other things that we’re interested in doing that highlight women’s achievements, and put it all into something called Palm Springs Women’s Week?”
The week came to fruition with help from The L-Fund, a group founded in 2012 that assists local lesbians facing a short-term financial crisis, and offers grants to lesbians for higher education or skilled training.
“I’m very close with Barbara Carpenter,” The L-Fund’s executive director, “and I was talking to her about the golf tournament, and said, ‘Well, you’ve got women coming in for the golf tournament,’” Christian said. “And she said, ‘Yes, and often those women ask, “What else is there to do?”’ And so she thought that would be a good idea if we could place Women’s Week around the Golf Tournament, and anchor the week with the Jazz Festival and the golf tournament.”
The week features a diverse slate of events—from jazz singer Rose Mallett paying tribute to Sarah Vaughan, to a “Power Gathering” during which a panel of local lesbian leaders will discuss current events before a screening of the documentary film American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs. On Tuesday, Oct. 1, the Palm Springs Woman’s Club will be the site of a “Food and Wine Party” featuring a variety of women chefs, including La Tasha McCutchen, a winner of Hell’s Kitchen, and Nena Balestier, a winner of Chopped.
“Food has defined women’s roles in the family,” Christian said. “While they’ve always been able to cook at home, they’ve had a very difficult time becoming, quote, ‘a chef.’ It’s only in the past 20 years that we’ve seen women really start to come out of the woodwork as chefs. So we’re going to talk about not only chefs and their food, but we’re also going to talk about the relationship between food and women.”
Christian said she’s also excited about the festival’s emphasis on women in art, with an exhibit at Barba Contemporary Art Gallery (191 S. Indian Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs), and the spotlight on an unheralded collection of historic lesbian memorabilia called the June L. Mazer archive. It’ll be on display throughout Women’s Week at the Palm Springs Woman’s Club.
“It’s a very important archive that most people don’t know anything about. It is a 2,500-piece lesbian archive; my understanding is it started out in someone’s home,” Christian said. “… They really have done I think a wonderful job, with very little money, of pulling together a quite impressive archive. They are bringing about 50 pieces to Palm Springs that we’ll have on display all week.”
Christian said that Palm Springs Women’s Week is coming at a crucial time for lesbians—and all women.
“It’s important for the same reason that the civil rights movement is still important: Certainly, there have been gains made, but in this particular political climate, it’s very easy to see how easy it is to lose those gains, or to see them being eroded, unless you stay on top of it,” Christian said.
Palm Springs Women’s Week takes place Sunday, Sept. 29, through Sunday, Oct. 6, at various venues across the valley. For a complete schedule, tickets and more information, visit www.palmspringswomensweek.com.