The Harlem-based violinist Meg Okura, who leads her 10-piece Pan Asian Chamber Jazz Ensemble, says that when growing up in Japan, she experienced egalitarian support where her creativity was celebrated. “We were encouraged to embrace anything we’d choose,” she says. “We were free to explore jazz as an art form deeply rooted in Americanism. We’re all immigrants, which allows us to pursue something within our own tradition. As female composers, we haven’t been discouraged here in the U.S. It’s an exciting time.”

To Okura, the integral ingredient to the rise of women composers is the community sensibility. “We don’t feel like a minority,” she says. “We occupy the composer world. We know each other, we show up at different functions. I don’t have to be someone else, like I have to swing. I can do anything and be inspired by my contemporaries. I don’t belong anywhere. I was born in Japan, became a classical violinist and have become a Jew by choice. So I’m an outsider, but this music changed my life. It is my survival. I can compose all night because this is who I am. I used to be a concert master, so this is my second life. My new identity is jazz composer.”

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