The Girls in the Band | Chicago Reader

The Girls in the Band

For this 2011 documentary about the forgotten women of jazz, Judy Chaikin interviewed five elderly artists who played in the 30s and 40s, one as the lone woman in Woody Herman's band and others staffing such all-girl outfits as the Ada Leonard Orchestra, Ina Ray Hutton and Her Melodears, and the International Sweethearts of Rhythm. These elderly witnesses remember the difficulties of playing in mixed-gender bands (the guys were afraid their behavior on the road would get back to their wives) and the endless pressure from managers to look hot and show some leg. Richly illustrated with performance clips, this showcases such talents as Hazel Scott and Mary Lou Williams, who bore the added burden on the road of being black; but the story loses steam and the discourse grows vague and platitudinous when Chaikin moves on to the next generation of women in jazz. The documentary is rescued only by a final sequence in which Chaikin restages the famous 1958 group photo A Great Day in Harlem, this time with mostly women.

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