WILTON \u2014 Lil Hardin, Mary Lou Williams, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Dorothy Fields, Marian McPartland. Some are well known, some not as much, but all contributed significantly to the history of jazz in America. The role women played in furthering this distinctly American form of music will be the subject of an illustrated talk by vocalist, pianist and composer Brenda Earle Stokes on Wednesday, Sept. 23, from 5 to 6 p.m., via Zoom. After a five-month hiatus, this will conclude the five-part \u201cHistory of Jazz in America\u201d series presented by Wilton Library and the Wilton Historical Society. Online registration is required to receive the link to the Zoom or YouTube live stream, both of which are being used to accommodate the full sign-up list. Stokes, who spoke with Hearst Connecticut Media from her home in New York City, said rather than focus on a particular group of women or time period she will pose the question, \u201cwhy are we even having a talk on women in jazz? Why is it a thing? \u2026 Why do we even have to talk about this?\u201d Jazz is no different than any other entertainment medium in that it has been dominated throughout the last century by men. Stokes will look at different eras \u201cfrom the all-women big bands of 20s and 30s and the rest of the women who were a very important part of the music who didn\u2019t receive the recognition they should have,\u201d she said. Lil Hardin Armstrong is one example who helped further the career of her husband Louis Armstrong, while not having her own talent fully recognized. \u201cNot only was she the only literate member of his band the Hot Five, she also was probably responsible for the majority of his career and how he became mainstream,\u201d Stokes said, adding \u201cshe got him a lot of gigs.\u201d Armstrong\u2019s Hot Five album, recorded in 1925, was critical to his early success and Hardin not only wrote one of the hits, \u201cMy Heart,\u201d she also played piano on the recording. Jazz, Stokes said, is not a meritocracy. \u201cJust because we know of someone, it\u2019s not because they were the best,\u201d she said. \u201cWe may canonize certain names in jazz, we raise someone up to a high level. They weren\u2019t necessarily the best, they got the opportunity. \u201cThere were women jazz instrumentalists and composers who because they didn\u2019t get the opportunity, they didn\u2019t get the recording contract. How would we know how good they were?\u201d Perhaps a line from the Wikipedia entry on women in jazz sums it up. \u201cWhile jazz songwriting has long been a male-dominated field, there have been a few notable women jazz songwriters.\u201d It goes on to mention three women, including Dorothy Fields, who wrote more than 400 songs, among them \u201cThe Way You Look Tonight,\u201d with Jerome Kern; and \u201cOn the Sunny Side of the Street\u201d and \u201cI Can\u2019t Give You Anything but Love, Baby,\u201d with Jimmy McHugh. How many songs have been left unpublished by scores of other women who faced intimidation and discrimination? Among the impediments women faced was sexual harassment, with Stokes describing after hours in a dark club where liquor is being consumed as a \u201ckind of wild West.\u201d For Black women, she said, \u201cit was 1,000 percent more difficult. There are plenty of well-documented stories of Ella Fitzgerald having to go in the back door, even at the pinnacle of her career.\u201d Motherhood, too, made it difficult for women to forge careers in jazz. There was no recognition of \u201cworking mothers.\u201d \u201cThere was a time period when women didn\u2019t have children or had children and disappeared,\u201d Stokes said, naming singer and pianist Shirley Horn as an example. Horn, who collaborated with the likes of Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie, put her career on hold from the late 60s to the early 80s to raise her daughter, performing only near her home on occasion. Jazz \u201cfathers,\u201d Stokes said, rarely faced that dilemma. Recent improvements Things have improved in recent years, Stoke said. \u201cWithin the last five years, there have been significant scandals at major conservatories of discrimination, harassment, assaults \u2014 a lot of it is now out in the open and being dealt with. The industry itself is making an effort to have more diversity,\u201d she said. \u201cA lot of organizations are getting pressured on why only men, or only white people. What\u2019s happening in entertainment is happening in jazz, too.\u201d One woman working to help other women in jazz is drummer Sherrie Maricle, who leads the DIVA Jazz Orchestra. The orchestra is composed of 15 women who perform contemporary and big band concerts around the world. Formed in 1992 by Stanley Kay, who managed Buddy Rich\u2019s career, the orchestra has been a beacon for women coming up in jazz in New York City. \u201cA huge group of women jazz musicians have participated in that band in some way,\u201d said Stokes, who will talk about her own relationship with the orchestra. Working to empower women and non-binary jazz professionals and to foster inclusiveness is the Women in Jazz Organization in New York City. \u201cIt\u2019s provided a forum for women to come clean about what has happened to us,\u201d Stokes said. Stokes herself came to jazz by way of classical music. She studied piano and had a natural ability, \u201cbut couldn\u2019t get my footing in classical,\u201d she said, finding the discipline of practicing just a few notes too repetitious. Then, in high school, she heard Oscar Peterson\u2019s \u201cC Jam Blues\u201d and \u201cthat switched a light on. This is the thing I want to do. It\u2019s virtuosic but freeing. She left classical behind and turned her attention to jazz. In addition to being a singer, composer and performer, Stokes serves on the faculty of Fordham University, and runs a busy private studio in New York City. Among the women in jazz she admires are Maricle, for her \u201cunwavering commitment to music\u201d and trumpet player\/composer Ingrid Jensen, who she describes as \u201can amazing composer and a mom I admire a lot for her musical abilities and capacity to do things.\u201d Steve Hudspeth will act as moderator for the program.