L’Ana (Webster) Hyams

As we reach the end of this month, I realize this jazzwomen project has grown far beyond the scope of a casual daily exploration. The list of jazzwomen I’ve been compiling is now at 247 names long. I’ve had a hard time narrowing it down to just 31 of these incredible women to highlight for the month of March. Since there are so many amazing ladies in jazz to study and share, I’ll be continuing this project at a much slower pace over time. My hope has been to discover more female musicians who are less recognized and whose playing inspires me. I had no idea what a treasure trove I’d find!

Today, I’d like to draw your attention to tenor saxophonist, L’Ana Hyams (Webster). There is very little biographical information to be found on L’Ana and I have only found two recordings of her playing, both on a compilation called “Forty Years of Women in Jazz: A Feminist Retrospective.” (The liner notes credit her on a third recording, but sadly, there is no saxophone on that track.) These tunes were not previously available online so I’ve uploaded them to youtube for your listening pleasure, and I’ll insert them below. One of the tunes features L’Ana’s stellar playing with Mike Riley & his ‘Round and ‘Round Boys. Ms. Webster (later Hyams) is the highlight of that tune and her solo is creative, articulate, and rather forward thinking for 1937! [1]

The other recording is with an excellent all-female group including Jean Starr on trumpet, Marjorie Hyams on vibes, Marian Gange on guitar, Vicki Zimmer on piano, Cecilia Zirl on bass, and Rose Gottesman on drums.

There’s a nice paragraph on L’Ana in Linda Dahl’s book “Stormy Weather: The Music and Lives of a Century of Jazzwomen” that I’ll share with you:

Another woman player who created a stir during the thirties was tenor saxophonist L’Ana Webster, one of the first white women jazz players to be featured as a soloist with a big band. She joined trombonist Mike Riley’s band in 1937, and Down Beat reported that her fine work there caused a “sensation” during performances at clubs such as the Onyx in Chicago. She recorded with Riley’s band in 1938, taking the tenor sax solos, and Down Beat again raved, writing that ‘she amazing fellow musicians by her talent and her arranging ability.’Webster, who also played alto sax and clarinet, married pianist Mike Hyams, brother of vibist Marjorie Hyams. Her style was characterized by one writer as owing an “obvious debt to Lester Young; she projects a gentle, pliant image.’ [2]

The liner notes from “Forty Years of Women in Jazz” include excerpts from interviews with L’Ana in which she says “I remember one time Carl Kress, the guitarist, arranged a guest appearance for me with Peter Van Steeden’s band. When I turned up for rehearsal I got some very strange looks from the musicians —and you know, there was this negative feeling in the air, something I was used to by then. But after rehearsal —after they’d heard me play and realized I could hold my own with any of them —it all changed. They all stood up and thanked me for coming in and were very friendly. That’s the way it happened most of the time. After I played with a group I’d have no trouble —But I always had to prove myself first.” This is something I’ve definitely experienced and am sure is still very common among female musicians today.

In his New York Times Article, “Women in Jazz, Past and Present,” Jons Wilson writes “L’Ana Webster Hyams… in whose playing one can hear such echoes of the period as Lester Young. Ben Webster, even Pete Brown, but who has her own light and airy way of adapting them.”

All this praise and yet, she seems to have almost disappeared from jazz history…

(Re)sources

[1] Jazzwomen: a Feminist Retrospective (1923–57, Stash 109) 2 LPs

[2] Linda Dahl. Stormy Weather: The Music and Lives of a Century of Jazzwomen. New York: Pantheon Books, 1984.

[3] Jons Wilson. “Women in Jazz, Past and Present.” The New York Times. June 11, 1978. (https://www.nytimes.com/1978/06/11/archives/women-in-jazz-past-and-present-women-in-jazz-past-and-present.html).

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