Tenor saxophonist Willene Barton has garnered the praise of Johnny Hodges and Charlie Parker and has been described by guitarist-arranger Eddie Durham as having "that tone that touches the soul." Yet throughout her more than 30 years as a jazz musician she has had to deal with a bias in her profession against female horn players.
"I wanted to play music, and that's all I ever wanted to do," Barton says. She thinks it's important "to get together some of the top girls to show that we are just as productive as what the guys put together--we want to show that we can do it, too." And that's what will happen when the Universal Jazz Coalition Big Apple Jazz Women come down from New York for a concert Tuesday in the University of Maryland's Tawes Theater. In addition to leader Barton on tenor, the lineup will be flutist Andrea Brachfield, pianist Amina Claudine Myers, bassist Carline Ray, percussionist Nydia Liberty Mata, drummer Bernadine Warren and vocalist Keisha St. Joan.
Besides her membership in all-female groups over the years, Barton has been the leader of many otherwise all-male combos. Audiences often looked askance when she mounted the bandstand, sax in hand. "But when I started playing you could see the changes in their faces and there'd be smiles and hand-slapping and saying, 'I told you so.'"