Today, it's easy to take female jazz musicians for granted. When they’re up on stage doing their groove thang or you’re rocking out to an album, you may not be aware of what females had to go through just to have the right to play jazz.
This is where director Judy Chaikin steps in with her new documentary The Girls In The Band. Intern Melissa called up the inspirational director to discuss her latest work and life as a lady in the film business.
Melissa: What was your inspiration for the film The Girls In The Band?
Judy Chaikin: Well, what made me get interested in it was I come from a musical background and I had been very involved in music and big bands ever since I was a kid. A friend of mine told me one day she had met a woman who was 90 years old who said that she had been a drummer in a big band. I said, “that’s impossible, there’s were no women drummer in any of the big bands”. And she said this woman insists she had a career as a drummer in a big band. And I thought that would be interesting if there was such a thing so I started to do a little research and what I turned up was an entire world that was completely unknown to me and to all my musician friends and it just blew my mind.
As a filmmaker I thought ‘this is an interesting arena I’d like to poke around in’.
The 90-year-old drummer, is she in your film because that’s ringing a bell?
Yes, She is the woman in the early part of the film with white hair and she’s wearing a white blouse, sitting in the chair. Then there is a picture of her as a young woman in front of a bunch of girls as she had her own girl band.
She’s not in very long as she died shortly after we filmed the interview.
That was so fortunate that you got to talk to her in time.
This happened with almost all the older women in the film. Only two of them are now able to give us interviews or be able to be a part of the rolling out of the film.
Wow. It was filmed a few years ago, right?
Well we started filming eight years ago so it has taken us a long time to get this far.
That’s really special that you got to speak to these women before they passed away and their legacy can be known.
Exactly. I feel we got it right at the very end of their lives. It was just so fortunate that we got the ones we did.
What have you learned through making the film and what part of the women’s stories has stuck with you the most?
Well, what stuck with me the most- and what kept me going was that their experience is no different to mine as a woman filmmaker and probably to yours as a woman journalist. We all meet the same brick wall. They call it the glass ceiling but I call it a brick wall. And you know it is getting through that brick wall that is hard for all of us as women and especially for them.
I was going to ask you, what hasyour experience been like as a female director in such a male dominated industry and do you have any advice for BUST readers who are trying to make it in the film or TV industry?
Yeah, my advice is the next time, come back as a man (laughs).
You know, I would love to be hopeful and say ‘things are getting better’ and all of that but…the more it changes, the more it stays the same. You know, some women are getting in and getting recognition and some doors have opened up a little... just a little tiny crack but for most women it’s really hard.
Well, you are an inspiration and I hope you continue getting through that brick wall! What are you hoping your audience will get out of this film?
First of all, I hope they’ll get an appreciation that music doesn’t have any gender. Music is good when it is made by talented people who pour their hearts into it and it doesn’t matter what gender, what color, what race you are music is beyond all that and that’s the great thing about music.
Read more about the kick-ass female pioneers of jazz in BUST’s April/May issue- out now! See article: No Man’s Band.