CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (CBS2/FOX28) — Since the time jazz first started until now, there have always been outstanding jazz musicians of all genders. However, there still remain fewer visible women in the genre.
Toni LeFebvre, an alumnus of both University of Northern Iowa and University of Iowa's music programs, is changing that.
LeFebvre is now going on two full years of playing in the Iowa Women's Jazz Orchestra, which she founded in November 2017. The purpose of IWJO is perform front of audiences of middle school, high school, and college-aged students to show aspiring jazz musicians that there are active professionals in jazz who are women--and they're right here in Iowa.
"We want to show them that--this is women playing jazz, this is what we sound like, this is what we look like, and you all can do this as well," said LeFebvre.
LeFebvre was inspired during her research while pursuing her Masters of Music Education at the University of Iowa in 2017.
"I was working with one of my professors and we were sharing our experiences and talking about things that have inspired us in the jazz idiom," said LeFebvre. "Because oftentimes we don't have as many role role models to look to as we'd like to."
Since then, IWJO has had the chance to perform in front of hundreds, even thousands of students at a time, including the annual Iowa Jazz Championships in Des Moines. LeFebvre says the reaction to women role models has been astounding.
"Students themselves have sent personal emails or have approached me after our gigs to say how meaningful our performance was," she said.
LeFebvre says it's also a great way to showcase the jazz talent that comes out of her home state. Most of the band members are music educators.
"Iowa has such a special tradition of jazz and jazz education," she said. "I knew something like this could thrive and really inspire students and teachers throughout the state."
It's inspiring teachers like fellow UNI jazz alumnus and Xavier High School band director Kelli Swehla.
"It's been really fun to not only be able to play music with all women, but just get to know other people that are playing jazz that I didn’t know before," said Swehla.
LeFebvre, who also gigs with internationally renowned Diva Jazz Orchestra, will start a new job as a music educator in the Fall. But even though she's now entering a new life as a busy band director, the IWJO performances won't stop.
"We made this dream of inspiring young men and women musicians in our state come true," she said. "I’m just really excited this is all happening."