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  • Girls in the Band, The | Review

    By | May 9, 2013


    Director: Judy Chaikin

    Writers: Judy Chaikin, Edward Osei-Gyimah

    Mention Dizzie Gillespie, Charles Mingus, or Thelonious Monk and jazz fans will likely wax nostalgic, recalling the moment they first heard “Salt Peanuts,” “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” or “Well, You Needn’t,” respectively. But mention Ina Ray Hutton, Mary Lou Williams, or Vi Redd, and you’ll likely get blank stares. Although one should be familiar with these ladies of jazz, the sad truth is most individuals cannot name one female jazz musician. While their contributions rank as important points in the history of jazz, female musicians were often considered a novelty, with the fame and glory left to the men, as playing jazz was considered a man’s job; women were expected to look pretty, stay at home, and take care of the children. Though that fate befell many a talented female musician, others bucked the stereotype and set off on careers in jazz.

    The Girls in the Band pays homage to the talented female jazz artists who made careers playing in smokey clubs, often for a pittance, while traveling the world playing jazz simply for the love of the music. When World War II reared its ugly head, female jazz musicians were there to fill the gap left by male musicians who were called overseas. It was then that these women began to receive well-deserved recognition from audiences in the United States, and with word of their accomplishments spreading to American soldiers fighting in Germany, it wasn’t long before the ladies were called across the Atlantic to play. But their fame would be short-lived as the war ended and male musicians returned home. While some of these women gave up jazz for the domestic bliss that awaited them, most continued to push forward with their music. 

    The Girls in the Band features an abundance of interviews and footage featuring women that played in some of the biggest bands in the early days of jazz. These women tell stories of the camaraderie that arose from their travels together, their shared love of jazz, and the perseverance required to leave their mark on a profession that often attempted to play down their contributions. They tell of darker times and the harrowing tales of traveling through the Jim Crow south, with firsthand accounts of the dangers involved, not only for African American women on the road, but also the perils of white musicians that dared to travel with them. It’s a film that not only chronicles the musical heritage of the United States, but history in general, it’s highs and lows, and the women who left their mark on jazz. 

    Rating: 7/10 

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