"The Girls in the Band": Shattering the Jazz Ceiling

Anna Mae Winburn, big-band pioneer.
Anna Mae Winburn, big-band pioneer.

Location Info


Opera Plaza Cinemas

601 Van Ness
San Francisco, CA 94102-3200

Category: Movie Theaters

Region: Hayes Valley/ Tenderloin


Not Rated. Opens Friday at the Opera Plaza.

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Judy Chaikin's documentary The Girls in the Band explores the evolution of female jazz and big-band instrumentalists and their battles with sexism and racism from the 1930s through the present day, paralleling the emergence of feminism. The surviving women describe how the male musicians could be as schlumpy as they wanna be, but women often couldn't get work if they weren't deemed sufficiently pretty, and few men took them seriously as musicians at all. Of course, not much has really changed in today's Top 40, in which a woman's youth and sex appeal are considered more marketable than her talent — though it's notable that as rock 'n' roll displaced jazz in the popular consciousness, more opportunities ultimately opened up for women, allowing them to prosper based on their talent rather than their fuckability. The Women's Liberation movement of the 1970s is also cited as a turning point, giving them the confidence and wherewithal to pursue their musical ambitions in spite of resistance from men. But The Girls in the Band is by no means dry or academic; it's joyous and packed with great music, much of which is not as familiar as it should be, since the fact that these female bands and performers never got their due is the point.

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