Step aside, Coltrane. A film screening downtown showed locals that early female jazz musicians didn’t need to be “one of the boys” to play.
UNLV group Cinefemmes worked with distributor herFlix and Emmy award-winning director Judy Chaikin to show a special screening of Chaiken’s film, “The Girls in the Band,” in downtown Las Vegas on Tuesday night.
The 2011 documentary took eight years to make with five separate researchers, according to Chaikin, who also wrote and produced the film. “Girls” is a documentary that highlights the previously untold story of the first women in jazz and their struggles to make a name for themselves. The film features interviews with nearly 90 women and chronicles the individual journeys of about a dozen sassy women jazz musicians from the 1930s to present day, including Roz Cron, Clora Bryant, Melba Liston, Jane Ira Bloom, Geri Allen, Esperanza Spalding and Patrice Rushen.
It was shown at the recently opened Inspire Theatre at 501 Fremont Street. Councilman Ricki Barlow attended the event, telling Chaikin, “Thank you so much for bringing this story to the city of Las Vegas.”
“When I was 5 years old, I played trumpet in the school band, and the boys were so mean to me. This is my revenge,” Chaikin joked. She then explained, “I grew up in a musical family and all of my brothers and sisters were musically trained. It was the brothers who went into it professionally. My sister and I — there was nowhere for us to go, and I always thought it was such a shame that it wasn’t a more welcoming business.”
The screening was attended by the musicians’ family members and friends including Denise “Dee” Archer, an R&B singer and keyboardist and daughter of Billie Rogers, a jazz trumpet player and featured soloist with Woody Herman in the early 1940s. Rogers died in January at the age of 96.
“My mother passed away in January so this is sort of her ‘last hurrah!’” Archer said.
Archer, friends and other family members all enjoyed the film, making comments throughout and seeing the stories they were told growing up memorialized on the silver screen.
During a Q&A with Chaikin after the film, attendees thanked her for making the film, because it “told a story that everyone needed to hear,” one person said.
The New York Times said the film “is everything a worthwhile documentary should be, and then some.”
The film has gained a lot of attention from schools across the US and Europe, and many want it added to their curriculums. “I think it’s wonderful,” Chaikin said, adding that it was important for young musicians to “know whose shoulders they stand on.”
Cinefemmes is a student organization at UNLV that supports women in filmmaking.
Contact Kristen DeSilva at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @kristendesilva