Hidden in time and history are the untold stories of women whose passion for music served as their armor from discrimination. Today, these stories have been uncovered, dusted and shined for showtime in celebration of Women’s History Month.
The enduring spirit of women jazz musicians will be made known by Friends of Jazz at UCLA’s screening of the award-winning music documentary film “The Girls in the Band” on Sunday. Hosted by UCLA professor Dr. Bobby Rodriguez, the event will feature a Q&A; session with filmmakers Judy Chaikin and Nancy Kissock, followed by a performance by an all-star jazz group consisting of some UCLA students and a post-event reception.
“The Girls in the Band” is a documentary that sheds light on the previously untold journeys of female jazz musicians and the racial and sexual discrimination they endured in the music industry from the 1930s to today. Artists featured in the film include trombonist Melba Liston, saxophonist Roz Cron and trumpeter Clora Bryant.
As a young girl, Chaikin felt discouraged to become a musician after seeing no women musicians in the industry. Years later, after hearing of a woman who was a big band drummer in the 1940s, she was compelled to search further.
“It was like opening Pandora’s box,” Chaikin said. “Once we found a few of them, it became apparent that there was an entire history of women musicians that had rarely been recorded either on record or in any kind of publication.”
After the discovery, Chaikin sought to share the stories of the lives of these women in film. Chaikin, with other filmmakers involved in the project, researched extensively, scouring libraries such as the John Cotton Dana Library Institute of Jazz at Rutgers University and sifting through museums such as the Getty Museum and Smithsonian Institution.
They soon uncovered photographs and footage of women musicians seen in the film. After their extensive research, the filmmakers also independently fundraised to bring the documentary to life.
Although the filmmakers’ research largely focused on women, Chaikin said she hopes the film will reach a wider demographic.
“Anybody who watches the film will take away a sense of the joy, first, of playing jazz and secondly, the courage and the stamina and the tenacity that these women faced everything with,” Chaikin said.
Organized by Friends of Jazz at UCLA, a campus organization that supports UCLA’s jazz studies program, “The Girls in the Band” event is presented as part of a series of jazz films.
“I think it’s important for UCLA students and the larger UCLA community to get a sense of the many challenges that women in jazz have had to overcome,” said Tony Tolbert, Friends of Jazz at UCLA president. “And to also get a sense of how far we’ve come as a society, but put a spotlight on progress that remains to be made.”
The documentary screening will be highlighted by an all-star jazz combo performance consisting of professional musicians Nedra Wheeler and Maria Martinez, UCLA alumna Hitomi Oba, third-year ethnomusicology student Harmony Chua and first-year ethnomusicology student Sara Sithi-Amnuai. The 45-minute set list will include jazz pieces such as “Witch Hunt” by Wayne Shorter and “Joshua” by Victor Feldman.
Oba, a saxophone player, said the set will be covering a large range of jazz music from standards that are more traditional to jazz repertoire.
Chua and Amnuai will also perform their own original compositions. Chau said from her keyboard, the audience can expect to hear an unorthodox jazz piece riddled with a key change and a dark sound.
“It’s a little unusual in its form,” Chua said. “People have said it sounds sad but I think it’s more contemplative.”
Additionally, UCLA professor and Grammy-nominated trumpeter Dr. Rodriguez will round out the event. As the Master of Ceremonies, he will provide a welcome to the audience, introduce the film and filmmakers, as well as the all-star jazz combo.
Chaikin said ultimately she hopes “The Girls in the Band” will encourage UCLA students and musicians to pursue their art.
“You can’t let anything stop you,” Chaikin said. “We all want to take a path that is open to us, and the music business is a place for everyone who is a great musician regardless of gender.”