Premieres 9pm, Thursday 28 July on Freesat 156 | Virgin 276 | Sky 534
Judy Chaikin’s warm and poignant documentary reveals an important although largely forgotten part of the history of American jazz, telling the stories of the female musicians who made major contributions to the genre.
During the 1930s and 40s, hundreds of female musicians toured the country in glamorous all-girl bands, while others played side- by-side with their male counterparts. Yet by the mid-1950s, female jazz musicians had virtually disappeared from the music scene, their names and their contributions to music completely forgotten. These remarkably talented women endured sexism, racism and diminished opportunities for decades, yet continued to persevere, inspire, and elevate their talents in a field that seldom welcomed them. They were forced to kowtow to the club owners, wearing low-cut gowns and shorts and expected to maintain fixed smiles even while playing. Today, society has happily moved on and such blatantly misogynistic behaviour is no longer tolerated. Thanks to the efforts of the pioneers celebrated in the film, there is a new breed of gifted young women taking their rightful place in the world of jazz.
Cron, a gifted saxophone player with a beautiful tone and an ability to read anything that was put in front of her. She joined the International Sweethearts of Rhythm when they needed a sax player. As one of only two white girls in the band, she learned first-hand about the evils of Jim Crow and the dangers of racial mixing in the South. Melba Liston was a trombone player who was nothing less than a force of nature. At 16, she decided that she wanted to be a professional musician and would let nothing stand in her way. After a stint with the band of the Los Angeles Lincoln Theater, she joined a band newly formed by trumpeter Gerald Wilson before moving on to play with Dizzy Gillespie. She joined a band backing the great Billie Holiday on tour, although she found the experience disheartening and exhausting. Marian McPartland, who died in 2013 at the age of 95, was one of the finest jazz pianists of the 20th century. In addition to playing with such greats as Coleman Hawkins and Roy Eldridge, she led her own piano trio, a remarkable achievement in itself for a woman in 1950s New York. She presented a weekly radio programme, Piano Jazz, that ran for over two decades. Clora Bryant, a hard-driving bebop trumpeter with a powerful tone, played in big bands and led her own groups in California and on tour for several decades. Her fans included Dizzy Gillespie, with whom she maintained a lifelong friendship, and Louis Armstrong. Although Clora no longer plays, she continues to give lectures on jazz and, like many of the others featured in the film, serves as a role model to those who followed in her footsteps.