‘Girls in the Band’ highlights the overlooked musicians - Albuquerque Journal

‘Girls in the Band’ highlights the overlooked musicians

“The Girls in the Band,” is a documentary that highlights female musicians during the 1920s-40s.
“The Girls in the Band,” is a documentary that highlights female musicians during the 1920s-40s.

Judy Chaikin has always loved music. She grew up in a musical family and played trumpet.

But growing up, music wasn’t a welcoming field for girls, so she quit music and focused on her education. Years later, Chaikin married a musician and even has a son who is a musician.

“Sometimes I do regret not sticking with music,” she says during a recent interview. “It’s difficult to accept that because I’ve met so many women who stuck with music and paved their way in the industry.”

With those women as inspiration, Chaikin embarked on an eight-year journey to make her documentary, “The Girls in the Band.” It tells the untold stories of female jazz and big-band instrumentalists and their fascinating, ground-breaking journeys from the late 1920s to present day.

Chaikin says these women endured sexism, racism and diminished opportunities for decades, though each decided to keep with it and elevated their talents, she says.

“This was a time when women couldn’t express themselves,” she says. “We were pushed to the side to make room for men.”

Mary Lou Williams is one of the featured musicians in “The Girls in the Band.”
Mary Lou Williams is one of the featured musicians in “The Girls in the Band.”

Chaikin wasn’t looking to do a documentary on this subject, but then a friend called telling her she’d met a woman who had been a big-band musician in the ’40s.

“My first thought was to laugh about it,” she says. “It was not conceivable that this was possible. Then we did more research and found out she was the leader of an all-girl big band. It sparked some interest for me.”

The research was something that Chaikin welcomed.

“It did have difficulties because all of the subjects weren’t up to traveling because of their age,” she says. “Doing the research was like being a detective or an archaeologist. It’s really a joy and a frustration when you do or don’t find what you need.”

Chaikin and crew had more than 300 hours of footage and had to narrow it down to the 87-minute running time. She says there will be some bonus features added to the film when it is released on DVD.

“It was difficult because we needed to tell a complete story,” she says. “It was important that we didn’t cut anything too valuable.”

Billie Rogers, foreground right, in Woody Herman’s trumpet section.
Billie Rogers, foreground right, in Woody Herman’s trumpet section.

Chaikin is no stranger to New Mexico. A few years ago, she did a documentary called “Los Pastores,” which delved into the tradition of the play.

“We followed a group around the state as they performed,” she says. “It was a multi-language documentary and was broadcast on national TV stations.”

Chaikin is excited to have her film screen in Santa Fe because she has spent so much time there making films.

“It’s really such an inspiring place,” she says. “The entire state is beautiful and I got to experience it through being behind the lens.”

With “Girls in the Band,” Chaikin also got the courage to begin playing music again.

“I’m not playing the trumpet,” she says. “After meeting these women who didn’t give up, I was inspired to start playing piano again. It’s very fun and makes me wonder what would have happened if I continued to play.”

THERE’S AN APP FOR THAT: New Mexican filmmaker Alexandra Boylan and her team have created an interactive movie game app.

Boylan says “Your Pizza Adventure” places the stressful job of the Pizza Boy in your hands. You control every decision on the quest to make his first successful delivery. But delivering pie isn’t easy, and you’ll have to navigate him through dangerous neighborhoods where everyone wants a slice. There are more than 300 alternate videos and 150 different choices and features real people and video.

Boylan says it’s an app that crosses the threshold between filmmaking and gaming. It is available at the iTunes store.

SEND ME YOUR TIPS: If you know of a movie filming in the state, or are curious about one, email film@ABQjournal.com. Follow me on Twitter @agomezART.

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