The Girls in the Band Corrects a Footnote in Musical History
It's a cultural travesty that the women of early jazz—not just singers, but instrumentalists of all kinds—have become a neglected footnote in music history, but Judy Chaikin's well-researched, buoyantly entertaining documentary portrait could be the corrective. Bookended with Art Kane's legendary brownstone-steps photo "A Great Day in Harlem," that summer-of-1958 who's who of prominent jazz musicians (only three of them women), the film offers an affectionate, anecdotal female perspective of the era from golden-age musicians now in their golden years. Fighting constant sexism, especially after their male counterparts returned from WWII service and took over their gigs, these strong-willed musicians had to band together as all-girl groups in order to avoid the cutesy, novelty fates forced on the fairer sex. (One interviewed personality—and they're all personalities of great charm and eloquence—recalls a Siamese-twin saxophone act that performed on roller skates.) The retro photos and footage are also bountiful and, natch, jazzily edited enough that the standard talking-head techniques are instantly forgivable. It's only in the film's last 20 minutes that Chaikin overreaches a bit by pushing the timeline forward, linking a modern wave of jazz women with their forebears in a long-winded epilogue.
144 W. 65th St.
New York, NY 10133
Get the Film Club Newsletter
Stay up to date on the best new movies with our critics' latest reviews, interviews and trailers for the films coming to a theater near you each week.
More Film News
- Alex Gibney: Steve Jobs Had the 'Focus of a Monk — Without the Empathy'
- Netflix’s 'Narcos' Tries to Be 'The Wire' for Colombia’s Drug War
- ‘The Second Mother’ Offers a Sharp Brazilian Take on the Upstairs/Downstairs Drama
- The Predictability of Teary Kids Doc 'My Voice, My Life' Doesn't Make It Any Less Powerful