UI grad student hopes to diversify jazz with programs for women

UI graduate student Toni LeFebvre has devoted her time and graduate education to diverting from the norm in a traditionally male music scene


Jenna Galligan

Toni LeFebvre poses for a portrait with her trumpet in the Voxman Music Building on Wednesday, March 6, 2019. (Jenna Galligan /The Daily Iowan)

Alexandra Skores, News Reporter

Typically, one might find University of Iowa graduate student Toni LeFebvre with a trumpet and a smile.

Bettendorf native LeFebvre will graduate in May with a Master of Arts and a music-education emphasis from the UI. She has been a chief organizer in bringing more women into jazz at the UI.

One of the greatest opportunities in her career in music is starting a program for female jazz artists called the Iowa Women’s Jazz Orchestra.

“The goal of this group is not to make money,” she said. “It is more so just to get in front of elementary-, middle-, and high-school students — especially young women — to give them role models. That is a large part of why the lack of women participating in jazz exists.”

LeFebvre said the all-female big band allows for young women to view role models.

“I’ve been compiling and synthesizing research as a part of my graduate work regarding experiences of women in jazz,” LeFebvre said. “A lot of it has to do with the contributions to the marginalization that occur with lack of female representation in instrumental jazz. The gender gap essentially is what brought me to develop the Iowa Women’s Jazz Orchestra.”

UI Associate Professor Mary Cohen said she would never forget having LeFebvre in her class.

“Students were challenged to come up with something completely new,” Cohen said. “I’ll never forget Toni’s. [project] She taught the group how to improvise a song on a B-flat minor scale. Once we had that skill, she used a visual video of whales, and the group had to improvise watching the video.”

Cohen said LeFebvre’s jazz-orchestra program allows for new territory to be reached for more women in music.

“Toni’s program is giving women of all ages role models,” Cohen said. “These types of role models are needed in jazz.”

The women’s jazz orchestra allows LeFebvre to direct and play. She has played trumpet for around 15 years and has enjoyed every second of it, she said.

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Her colleague and friend of 10 years from their undergraduate days at the University of Northern Iowa, Faith Hall, is the band director at Sioux City North High. LeFebvre frequently visits the high school and performs for the bands, and Hall plays trumpet in the Iowa Women’s Jazz Orchestra alongside LeFebvre.

“After graduation, Toni and I taught in northwest Iowa together for two years,” Hall said in an email to The Daily Iowan. “Toni is an incredibly talented musician and trumpet player, and I have always admired her voracious work ethic for developing her skills. Toni is a person you don’t want to bet against; she will not let anyone underestimate her.”

Hall noted the intensity of LeFebvre’s research for integrating more women into jazz.

“Iowa has a great network for jazz education, but women are considerably underrepresented in both the collegiate and professional jazz scene in Iowa,” Hall said in her email. “Toni has been working to bridge that gap by starting the Iowa Women’s Jazz Orchestra. I would love to see Toni develop as a performer and bandleader and continue her work in inspiring young female musicians in Iowa to continue playing jazz.”