By the 19th century, there were already a number of female saxophonists using the instrument in classical music, such as the great Elise Hall, who was better known by her nickname of “The Saxophone Woman“. However, there were only a small number of women in orchestras playing any instrument, and it was not until much later that the first women’s orchestras began to appear. The pioneer of these was the “Wiener Damenorchester”, a phrase which can best be translated as “Orchestra of Viennese Ladies”, and this was followed by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. It was not until after the Second World War that the first mixed-sex orchestras appeared, although in these women came under pressure not only from dissatisfied conductors but also from their own colleagues. Given how hard it was for these women, it is not difficult to imagine the reasons that some female saxophonists dreamed of becoming part of the big band jazz scene. Of course, playing in a concert hall in front of the rich and famous was not the same as doing so in a club at dawn, full of people who were drinking and dancing to the music.


We have discussed more than once the role of the saxophone in big band jazz, but looking back we can see that in the early days, female saxophonists were notable by their absence. Women experienced considerable difficulty in demonstrating what they were capable of, and had to listen to all kinds of excuses. The sax was not an instrument for women as far as male big band players were concerned, because female saxophonists were not supposed to take part in such things. One of the strangest stories about this is that of Billy Tipton, a well-known jazz saxophonist who, in 1989 at the age of 79, was discovered to be, in fact, a woman. He had hidden this fact from his five girlfriends and adopted son, as well as the general public and the musicians who had accompanied her over the years. These days, no-one doubts that a woman saxophonist can offer as much interpretative quality as a man and can even add a distinctive touch to her performances. For that reason, Anastasia McQueen surprises in her appearances by her superb interpretation more than simply by being a woman saxophonist.