“The Girls In The Band”: Screening Benefits Resource Center

“It’s a cultural travesty that the women of early jazz…have become a neglected footnote in music history, but Judy Chaikin’s well-researched, buoyantly entertaining documentary portrait could be the corrective,” Aaron Hillis, The Village Voice

Until August 26, 1920, women in this country did not even have the right to vote. For centuries, the world lived and died (literally and metaphorically) by the “sword”: in ancient Athens, intelligent men were only interested in each other and prostitutes; respectable women were suppose to stay in their proper sphere, the home – and in no way, blow their own horn (again, literally or metaphorically).

The Girls in the Band Poster

But don’t tell that to trombonist and arranger Melba Liston, one of the many wonderful women featured in producer/director/writer Judy Chaikin’s award-winning feature-length (81 minutes) documentary, “The Girls in the Band,” a tuneful tribute to performers who – until now– really never got their due.

“The Girls in the Band” tells the little told, poignant stories of female jazz and big band instrumentalists and their groundbreaking journeys from the late 1920s to the present day. These incredibly talented women endured sexism, racism and diminished opportunities for decades, yet continue today to persevere, inspire and elevate their talents in a field that seldom welcomed them – although perseverance back then all too often meant having to wiggle and jiggle like bowls of jello in cleavage-popping gowns.

In the roll up to the Telluride Jazz Celebration weekend, Friday, August 1 – Sunday, August 3, “The Girls in the Band” screens Thursday, July 31, 8 p.m. at the Palm Theater. The event, sponsored by The Palm and Telluride Jazz, is free to the general public, although producer Jim Berkowitz, aka “Jimmy Jazz,” has arranged for donations of $10 or more to go to support the San Miguel Resource Center, the region’s only nonprofit dealing with victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

“I’m a sucker for stories about vaudeville, big bands, and jazz, but by any measure Judy Chaikin’s loving documentary is a standout. She not only chronicles the careers of forgotten female musicians but places them in the continuity of jazz in the 20th and 21st century,” raved Leonard Maltin, Indiewire/Leonard Maltin’s Movie Crazy.

Prior to the screening, attendees get to enjoy the sounds of the Young Rascals Jazz Project. That half-hour performance begins at 7:30 p.m.

In an era when equality between the sexes is taken for granted, it may seem antique to suggest women in jazz deserve to be celebrated, yet in his 19-hour miniseries, “Jazz,” Telluride regular and iconic filmmaker Ken Burns, a hair-on-fire progressive, devotes only a minute or two to the contributions of women instrumentalists.

According to Chaikin, it all started with a phone call from a friend telling her she had met a woman who had been a big- band musician in the forties.

“As a kid I spent my summers in Ocean Park where two great ballrooms were the star attraction. As you walked the magical pier at night, you could hear the music drifting from those glamorous dance halls: Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, and especially the golden sound of Harry James’ trumpet. That started my great love for big band music and, by the time I was in my twenties, I had seen or heard probably every major band that ever played the West Coast…never once did I see a woman play an instrument in any of those big bands. True, there were a few all-female bands, such as Ina Ray Hutton’s Melodears and The Ada Leonard All-Girl Band, but to me they were mainly “novelty acts,” seen on television in the late-fifties…but real, honest, female big band musicians? Not any that I knew of…”

To learn more, click the “play” button and listen to my chat with Judy Chaikin.

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