Review: The Girls in the Band


Director:Judy Chaikin


Running Time:86.00


Apparently, there's a photograph taken in Harlem in 1957 (commonly referred to as "A Great Day in Harlem") of historically famous jazz musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Gene Krupa, and many others. In this photograph there were only two women. The Girls in the Band tracks the history of female musicians in jazz bands from the 1930s until now, highlighting their struggles with racism, sexism, and decreased opportunities.

There's a lot of history to cover, and some of it does get a little bogged down in certain details and repetition, but it's pretty cool to get interviews from the women that were actually in those bands during World War II and recounting their time touring with the USO and performing in the deep South during Jim Crow laws. I'm not up on many jazz musicians, so while some of the names were at least passingly familiar, I can't tell you if director Judy Chaikin left out anyone super important.  Initially, I thought The Girls in the Band was just going to be a documentary about the women in the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, an all-female, predominantly black jazz band, but then the film progressed to talking about other women who made contributions in the field of jazz and how women from the 1930s-era jazz influenced women who are performing in the field now.

The Girls in the Band is primarily talking head interviews with tons of archival footage. I kind of wonder how Chaikin got her hands on so much of it, but I really appreciate the visuals, and it made the documentary much more interesting. As you'd expect from a film about jazz musicians, the music is spectacular, but it would be a crying shame if it weren't.


About Candace Breiten

Candace Breiten

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