The Girls in the Band review, and my introduction to a women’s film site

Women jazz musicians in the documentary The Girls in the Band

The Girls in the Band was the first film I picked to watch on a new site I just learned about. I’ll get to the film in a bit, but first I want to mention Herflix. The site is full of material by and for women. It’s free to join and there are free films to watch. Other films are available for rent.

I found The Girls in the Band under the Genre -> She Directs menu. It was free to watch. The home page was offering Love Lies Bleeding for a $19.99 rental, which is the same as the big streamers. I don’t know how well known Herflix is, because the IMDb listing for The Girls in the Band mentions that it can be seen on Pluto and Tubi or rented on Prime Video. It doesn’t mention Herflix.

Now that I know about Herflix, I’m sure I’ll be mentioning other films from there, so I hope you’ll look for it and maybe download the app.

And now! The Girls in the Band

Women jazz musicians posed like the famous 1958 A Great Day in Harlem photo

The documentary began with the famous 1958 photo A Great Day in Harlem of all the jazz greats. All men except for a very few women. At the end of the documentary, many of the women featured in the film gathered in the same spot for a similar photo of the women in jazz.

The documentary showed lots of archival footage of women performing in jazz bands over the years. It talked about how hard it was to get work in a male band. It explored the dangers of the Jim Crow south. There were pioneering women who started all women jazz bands and paved the way for contemporary women who don’t have to overcome so much.

A few of the women who were part of the film include Geri Allen, Marian McPartland, Carline Ray, Billie Rogers, Viola Smith, Esperanza Spalding, Mary Lou Williams, and Helen Woods. That is by no means the full list, just a sampler. There were a smattering of men, such as Herbie Hancock, but not as many as the women.

The story ranged from the early days of jazz in the 1930s, through the big band era, through World War II and into more contemporary music. The film was directed by Judy Chaikin. As a lifelong jazz fan, I learned a lot of things I didn’t know. It was an interesting and informative documentary.

4 thoughts on “The Girls in the Band review, and my introduction to a women’s film site”

  1. I enjoyed The Girls in the Band. It was an eye-opening, foot-tapping, heartwarming, soul-stirring experience. Thoroughly entertaining! It brought to mind the movie (and series) A League of Their Own. In many ways, though, the stories in The Girls in the Band are far more compelling. Netflix, are you listening?

    I recently watched Ken Burns’ Jazz documentary from a couple of decades ago. Though I enjoyed Jazz, Burns didn’t say much about women’s involvement. He did mention Lil Hardin and Mary Lou Williams, but now after watching The Girls in the Band, it’s clear to me that Burns left huge gaps. This is history that I did not know. I now find myself fascinated by Mary Lou Williams’ life and career. So much so, that I just bought Morning Glory: A Biography of Mary Lou Williams. Hopefully, beyond her contributions to jazz, the biography will reveal some of what made her “tick”.

    Anyway, thanks for the references, Virginia. The Girls in the Band was right on time (pun intended)! I visited the HerFlix site. I liked what I saw.

      1. More than liked; actually enriched and inspired by the experience!

        If you can’t find the biographies at your local library, there are videos on YouTube, including performances by Williams, and Mary McPartland (another interesting figure from the documentary who I’d never before known of) performing Williams’ music.

        As for the first biography I mentioned, it’s a good read. I’m a slow reader, but have gotten far enough to learn the origin and nature of Williams’ musical genius. Also far enough to learn of her early life traumas, and sadly, her toxic relationships(!). Eager, however, to satisfy my curiosity about Williams’ mysticism, I’ve temporarily switched to another biography, Mary Lou Williams: Music for the Soul written by Dianna Witkowski. I will definitely return to the first biography to learn more about Williams’ contributions to jazz, and to gain additional insights about her life.

      2. LOL, my library didn’t have the first one you mentioned. I’ll have to look for the second one. Wow! there is a lot about her on YouTube, you’re right.

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