Robin Lloyd reviews the film “The Girls in the Band”

Sax section, International Sweethearts of Rhythm (credit: thegirlsintheband.com)
Sax section, International Sweethearts of Rhythm (credit: thegirlsintheband.com)

Based on actual conversations:

WHY WE NEED THIS MOVIE #1

Me:  I’m going to watch this movie, “The Girls In The Band.”  And hopefully write a review.

Hip Old Jazz Radio Dude:  Oh, yeah?  What’s it about, chick singers?

Me:  Um, no.  It’s about the great female instrumentalists who couldn’t get hired by the big bands, or almost any band led by a man.

HOJRD:  Didn’t they have those all-girl bands to play in?

Me:  Well, that’s what they had to resort to in order to make a living.  And even then, they were treated as novelty acts, not as “real” musicians.  Many of them were better players than their male counterparts, but they had to put on frilly dresses and smile all the time.  You know, I think —

HOJRD:  (eyes glazing over, attention span limit reached) Oh, yeah, yeah, right.  Excuse me, I have to go dust off this turntable…

WHY WE NEED THIS MOVIE #2

Me:  I really enjoyed your playing tonight!

Very Young Female Saxophonist:  Thanks so much.

Me:  Are you glad you continued with your music after college?  It couldn’t have been an easy career choice.

VYFS:  Um, what?

Me:  Well, historically, female jazz instrumentalists were largely ignored, or treated with disdain by male musicians.  They’d never get called for gigs, or if they actually got into a band, they could be replaced with a male musician at any time, without any notice.  You know, I think–

VYFS:  (looking at me like I’m deranged)  I’m sorry, I don’t know what you’re talking about.  Excuse me, I have to go adjust my reed…

Alternately touching and humorous, The Girls In The Band is a delightful movie that can serve as a primer for the nearly forgotten story of  the talented, hard-working, dedicated musicians who just happened to be female during a time when “girls just don’t do that!”  It’s nicely paced, moving between interviews and archival film footage and photos, and filled with great music.  The older musicians tell their tales, the hurts and disappointments still fresh; the good times, the excitement and the love lingering and making it all worthwhile.  The younger musicians listen, learn and pay tribute.

The Girls in the Band has won Audience Awards at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, the Omaha Film Festival and the Victoria Film Festival.  Director/Producer Judy Chaikin has a couple of Emmy nominations under her belt for her documentaries, as well as numerous film festival awards and a Blue Ribbon from the American Educational Film and TV Festival.  A theme running through most of Chaikin’s work is “righting a wrong,” and she spent eight years making this film so that the stories and the art of these musicians would not disappear.

One can forgive the hip old jazz guy for being from another era.  One can rejoice that the very young jazz girls don’t have to deal with the same issues that plagued their predecessors.  Both could still benefit from watching this entertaining slice of history.

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