Vermont Arts Council

Dialing Up the Magic: Black Women in Jazz, an Interview with Burlington Discover Jazz Festival Curator Adi Oasis

Black woman with guitar outdoors
2024 Burlington Discover Jazz Festival curator Adi Oasis Credit: Kendall Bessent

This week kicks off one of Vermont’s most anticipated cultural events of the year: the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival, produced by The Flynn. Now in its 41st year, the festival brings local, national, and international musicians together to celebrate, innovate, and discover the art of jazz. Dozens of free shows will be held throughout Burlington over the five-day festival.

This year’s festival curator is Adi Oasis, a Brooklyn-based French-Caribbean soul-funk-R&B artist and producer. Oasis brings years of experience and artistic talent to this role and has created a lineup of music performances, discussions, and events that will both celebrate and expand our vision of this truly American art form.

Oasis’ perspective as an artist and as a Black woman inform her choices for the festival lineup. It may come as no surprise by now that Vermont is one of the whitest states in the nation. But by bringing in talented guest curators such as Oasis to program the Festival, the Flynn is building a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive creative Vermont.

On June 6, the Flynn will host a live taping of the podcast Homegoings* where host and musician Myra Flynn will lead a raw, informative, and inspiring discussion about navigating the world of jazz (and beyond) as a woman of color. She’ll be joined by Oasis and singer Melanie Charles. This free event is on the Flynn Mainstage at 11 a.m. on Thursday, June 6. Reserve your tickets here.

three women pose
(clockwise, from top) Myra Flynn, Melanie Charles, and Adi Oasis. Courtesy of the Flynn

We spoke with Oasis to learn more about her experiences and what she hopes will come out of this important discussion highlighting Black women in jazz. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Vermont Arts Council (VAC): What is your vision for this panel and conversation on Black women in jazz?

Adi Oasis (AO): We want the discussion to be informative, to share our experiences. We want to open a window into what it’s like to be a Black woman in the music industry, specifically in jazz but also in the music industry overall. There are so many things that need to change and be updated. We need to shine a light on what’s happening and what our realities are so that we can make steps to improve the situation for all women in music. And we want to end on a hopeful note, we’re focusing on information and solutions. I also want to bring light to Myra Flynn for her podcast. We’re using her platform, and she should be honored for the work that she is doing.

VAC: Is there particular relevance to this conversation now, versus another time in history? How do you think this conversation feels different now compared to 50 years ago?

AO: I feel like everyone should have the opportunity to expose what their realities are when they are given a platform. I’m the curator of the festival, and so I’ll talk about why I picked the artists I did. And we want to expose some of the nature of the experiences we’ve had as Black women jazz musicians. Jazz has evolved so much. When music evolves, the originators get forgotten, and we need to remember that black women are still making jazz. We haven’t disappeared.

VAC: There can sometimes be a balance between giving audiences what they think they want and exposing them to new music, new traditions, new ideas. How do you manage that balance?

AO:  For me, it’s a matter of exposure. Art is like food. If you don’t give your kids broccoli, they’re going to hate it. If people only consume music by turning on mainstream radio, that’s what they’re going to like. The responsibility is on the music industry and the radio to open their minds up a bit more. Live music is so important, and all of the performers at the festival know how to perform. This is an opportunity to show that people in Vermont are going to fall in love with everyone that’s playing this year. There’s a magic that happens when there’s a direct connection between the artist and the audience, and that’s how you change minds.

VAC: Why is this conversation important in Vermont, particularly as one of the whitest states in the country?

AO: I’ve never lived in a place that has less than 2% of the population who is Black, so I don’t know what Vermont needs. I’ve never had a bad experience being [in Vermont], and it’s really a matter of exposure. This is a jazz festival, it’s about time that they hear the perspective of Black people who make jazz because Black people invented jazz and we’re still here, so how about hearing what we have to say?

VAC: What are you most looking forward to bringing to this conversation and to your role as curator of the festival?

AO: Just fun times! We’re talking about serious things, but the lineup is about having a good time and feeling connected to each other. I love being a Black woman. I love being a performer. Yes, things could be better but it’s no one’s fault in the room. Everyone has their own struggles…and people need to hang out and dance and have a good time and forget about all of it for a while!

The full line-up of musical acts and events at the June 5-9 festival can be found here.

More information about the Black Women in Jazz Panel on June 6 can be found here.

*The Vermont Arts Council is a sponsor of Homegoings.