Emily Fredrickson

Trombonist, Composer

June 22, 2016


How old are you?

I’m 25.

Where are you from originally?

I was born in Clearwater, Florida and grew up in Palm Harbor, Florida.

How long have you been in NO?

It will be four years in August.

What brought you here?

I came for a grad school program in arts administration. I was looking to study something in the arts and I was offered an assistantship at University of New Orleans and I decided to take it.

Why are you still here?

I really thought I would leave. I didn’t think I liked it when I first visited. But I got a job that was effectively my dream job so I’m doing that. My fiancé lives here as well and he’s finding a lot of things that he likes here. We’re enjoying our time here. New Orleans sucks you in and I’m realizing that is why I’m still here.

In what capacity are you a part of the music community of New Orleans?

I really didn’t think I was going to continue being heavily involved in music but I started playing at UNO and then from there, I started gigging around town. I started getting called for gigs and now I play with the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra. I’m the third trombonist and the artistic curator and I play in random gigs around town whenever I get a sub call.

What are some of the aspects you’d like to become more involved in?

I’m a copyist and an arranger so I would like to be more on the scene to help people arrange and get their music charted out because it’s something I really like doing. I would also like to get a band together and get an album recorded and those are things that I haven’t delved into yet.

Do you remember being told or taught anything growing up regarding behavioral expectations of girls?

Absolutely. I went to a really strict Southern Baptist school from kindergarten through eighth grade. There were a lot of expectations for what girls did and what boys did. My parents were fairly traditional but when I picked trombone, that was day one of ‘you don’t do things that most girl do’. I was a tomboy, I was in sports, I was the only girl on the t-ball team and I never batted an eye. But I was the only girl who played trombone at my school. I quickly realized that it is a man’s world for trombonists. It’s not something that’s expected for women let alone a young girl. But I was allowed to challenge all those things. That was a big confusion to me because I never thought of the trombone being a masculine instrument. And if it wasn’t a trombonist, I’ve always said that I wanted to be a paleontologist, digging stuff up and being really dirty.

How old were you when you started playing the trombone?

I was 10. Actually, I started playing the trombone so I could get as far away from the girls who teased me as possible. They all picked clarinet and flute and sat in the front row and I asked, “What instrument is in the back row?” I picked tuba and my mom told me it was too big for her to drive around in her car everywhere. So I just picked the next instrument over and I totally fell in love. Thank god I didn’t play tuba.

Can you define sexism as it presents itself to you?

Sexism is the expectation that there are different capabilities between genders or sexes. I don’t believe that that’s a thing and that is what makes me a feminist.

How does being in a sexist way make you feel?

It really inspires me. It sucks at first but every time I’ve had that happen, it’s just caused me to do something better. Even though he was my favorite trombone teacher, he always said, “You need to stop playing like a girl.” And it never kept me from playing, I just practiced more. Consequently when I was pinned up against a bunch of dudes playing jazz music, I thought “I have to be better because I can’t play like a girl.” Those are not the words that I will use to mentor someone. But in every case it’s always just inspired me to do better. I’ve never shut down from it. Not that I would ever encourage it, but it never stopped me.

Do you always notice when individuals are acting in a sexist way?

Now I do. I’m really sensitive to it now. I didn’t want to believe that it was happening because I never wanted to think, “Do I have this gig because I’m a girl?” and I definitely never want to think, “Do I not have that gig because I’m a girl?” I never wanted that to ever come into my mind but of course it does. You are burdened with that as a female musician because part of being a musician is being a spectacle. But you can change that. I can’t change the fact that I’m a woman and I’m very proud of the fact that I’m a woman. When I was in college, a few things happened that caused me to really wonder if that had happened before. I started studying women in music and how women have been kept from being canonized in the history of music: how they’ve had to write under male pen names, how early women in the jazz circuit were beaten and taken advantage of. One of my heroes, Mary Lou Williams, shaped the entire scene of jazz as we know it today but was beaten by her husband, robbed, and disrespected as a musician. But today, people like Esperanza Spaulding can win Best New Artist at the Grammys. That’s a female minority playing jazz. That’s progression.

Can you recall any specific occasions when you experienced sexist behavior against you that may have stood out?

The first one that I remember was when I was auditioning for a scholarship in high school and I was playing for this bass player who was very highly regarded. I was very nervous because it was a tough panel and there were only a few of us in the competition but I couldn’t afford to go to the school if I didn’t get the scholarship so I played well. They had great comments except for the bass player who said, “I just want to know why she thinks there’s a place for women in jazz.” I was young, I was about thirteen so I was taken aback. It felt like it was someone else speaking through me but I said “If you’re listening to a record, you don’t know if it’s a woman or a man playing so I think there’s the same amount of space for women as there is for men.” People can’t say stuff like that. It is career changing and they don’t realize it but that was the total wrong thing to say. At least to me. You just have to tell me that I need to work hard. But that really shaped my opinion and caused me to question my ranking in class and how people viewed me as a peer in the university setting. Plenty of other things but those are two that certainly stand out to me. But I eventually became more interested in women in music and found some of my greatest idols because of that. It kind of inspires different paths of life.

Are there any particular stereotypes of men or of women that just drive you insane?

I hate the fact that men aren’t supposed to be emotional or display their emotion. Most of my male friends are probably more emotional than I am but they’re not supposed to show it. Whereas I am even-keeled and sometimes lack emotion where I should probably have it but I’m supposed to be showing it. I don’t like that. I am a weightlifter. I love to lift weights. I can help you move that as well and I would be happy too because I like picking things up actually. There are plenty of times where I would be happy to help someone lift something up because I’m actually trained to lift things up and the guy who they ask is not and he throws his back out.

Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

These are great questions. I love talking about this stuff. I really wish people would ask more questions so we can think more about why things are the way they are. There are so many issues in society that could be avoided if people would just talked about them and if we accept that we can be wrong about something. I am constantly thinking about stuff like that. I was taught to believe in absolutes and while it’s a really good way to have a firm belief in something, it’s really not good for encouraging growth and change.