Jazz Singer Lizzi Trumbore Stands Up for Women After Experiencing Sexism at UNT

Jazz singer Lizzi Trumbore moved to Denton from San Diego, and she soon found herself facing industry sexism.EXPAND
Jazz singer Lizzi Trumbore moved to Denton from San Diego, and she soon found herself facing industry sexism.
Emilio Mesa
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Lizzi Trumbore walks into a McDonald’s and confronts an internal conflict. “I had to ask myself, ‘Should I buy something?’” she reflects later, sitting in that same Mickey D’s. “On the one hand, McDonald’s is this big corporation. They don’t need my money. On the other hand, I feel weird about sitting in here without ordering something.”

She ordered something. Trumbore, a jazz singer and Denton resident by way of San Diego, is halfway through an interview when she realizes her French vanilla latte has yet to materialize.

“Should I go ask?” she wonders aloud. “I don’t want to, you know, bother them.”

Trumbore is effusively polite. She frets over her 4.84 Uber rating, and attributes it to a late night ride from Love Field to Denton. “The driver wanted to talk, but it was, like, midnight,” she says. “So I was tired.”

Trumbore is also wholesome. She loves her friends, Animal Crossing and Triscuits, and particularly loves hangouts with friends that involve Animal Crossing and Triscuits. “I believe in being polite and kind. If you’re a good person, trying to put good stuff into the world, then I appreciate you.”

Yet at just 23, Trumbore has already experienced her fair share of bad people. As a musician and a woman in a genre dominated by men and their male gaze, the singer has spent much of her career combating perceptions and expectations.

“I don’t want to be put in a box, you know?” she says, her ocean-colored eyes searching for her latte, then ultimately returning to the empty table in front of her. “Unless it’s a box I put myself in.”

Trumbore was born and raised in San Diego, in a household she describes as “your classic musical place.” She grew up surrounded by the sounds of Count Basie and Diane Schuur, developing an early preference for classical and jazz music. By age 12, she was gigging on trombone and piano alongside performers in their 60s. It was in these early days when Trumbore experienced her first bouts with a misogyny-riddled industry.

“If you want to have a career in jazz, it’s all about playing for people,” she says. “And when you’re a woman in jazz, people expect you to be sexy. If you want to be fun and sexual with your music, that’s fine, as long as it’s in your own hands. But that’s not always the case.”

Trumbore grew up feeling like an object, a feeling she began to wrestle with in college. As a student at the University of North Texas’ high-profile jazz program, she settled in Denton not knowing what to expect.

“I didn’t know how I’d vibe with Texas,” she says. “But UNT seemed cool and relatively affordable, and Denton has this funky, grunge-y thing going on. It was kind of my vibe.”

In school, she befriended her future bandmate Sara Finkle, with whom she now plays in a trio called Knee Bandit.

“I think people see Lizzi as really sweet and kind, which she is,” Finkle says. “But she’s also a badass woman who basically started a movement.”

Finkle is referring to the steps Trumbore took to address sexism at UNT. As a student, Trumbore quickly noticed how the university’s jazz program was, as she puts it, “rooted in misogyny.”

“Women weren’t treated with respect by faculty or students,” she says, “and it seemed strange that no one had addressed it.”

So Trumbore addressed it for them. In a Google Doc survey sent to her fellow female students, the singer asked questions like “Have you ever been harassed/disrespected by UNT jazz faculty because of your gender?” 73.3% of her respondents answered “Yes.” 83.3% of those surveyed responded “Yes” when asked the same thing about UNT students, and when asked, “How frequently have you been harassed/disrespected by UNT jazz faculty because of your gender?” over half chose the response “several times.”

When she talks about this period in her life, Trumbore rubs her temples and sighs. She is uneasy about the prospect of being labeled a heroine; she squirms in her McDonald’s seat at the mere thought of it, lowering her head as if to try to hide under her tousled bangs. But when asked if she thinks it made a difference, Trumbore does not waver.

“I think so,” she says. “Women are now a part of the conversation, and I think it made it harder for them to ignore us.”

Finkle is more forward.

“She stepped up and wasn’t afraid of the repercussions, and because of that, she’s made change.”

Finkle mentions that certain jazz practices were moved from off-campus to on-campus in an effort to protect women, and points to the university’s Women in Jazz initiative as one outcome of Trumbore’s advocacy. According to the university’s website, “The mission of UNT Women in Jazz Initiative is to establish equality by empowering women and non-binary people within the jazz community. This organization will provide a space for open dialogue concerning inequality in jazz.”

Finkle also says Trumbore’s fearlessness can be heard in her new music, slated for release in late September.

“She’s very calm and level-headed in person, but when she writes, she lets it all pout out.”

Trumbore agrees, and calls her new music “a diary of the last five or six years.”

“It’s funny,” she says, her eyes once again searching for that elusive latte. “I’ve been playing some of these songs for years, but now they have this edge to them, this new feeling of confidence. When you have less confidence, you try to sugarcoat things. Feeling more comfortable lets me say what I naturally feel and be a little more forceful. But I’m still that same person. I still value kindness.”

A few moments later, an apologetic McDonald’s staff member surfaces with a French vanilla latte. He apologizes for the delay, shares a smile with Trumbore, then returns to work. As he walks away, the singer laughs.

“So, I asked for iced,” she says, rotating the warm drink in her hand as freckles blossom on her rosy, cheerful face. She turns to the person closest to her and asks, “Do you want this?”

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