The Girls In the Band

Judy Chaikin picture JPG

Judy Chaikin – Producer/Director

Judy Chaikin is a graduate of AFI’s Directing Workshop for Women and is best known for writing, producing and directing the Emmy nominated PBS documentary, LEGACY OF THE HOLLYWOOD BLACKLIST. In 2004 she received her second Emmy nomination for the documentary BUILDING ON A DREAM and directed and co-wrote the short romantic-comedy film, COTILLION ‘65, which has appeared in 40 film festivals winning Best Short, Best Comedy, Best Director and Audience Choice Awards.  Ms. Chaikin was a Supervising Producer/Segment Director on the ABC series, FBI: THE UNTOLD STORIES, a Co-Producer of the CBS Movie Of The Week, STOLEN INNOCENCE, the Writer/Director of the bi-lingual PBS documentary, LOS PASTORES and was named Best New Music Video Director by Billboard Magazine in 1991. In 1996 Ms. Chaikin won the Blue Ribbon at the American Educational Film and TV Festival for the docu-drama, SOJOURNER TRUTH: AIN’T I A WOMAN, featuring Julie Harris.

About “The Girls in The Band”

They wiggled, they jiggled, they wore low cut gowns and short shorts, they kow-towed to the club owners and smiled at the customers…and they did it all, just to play the music they loved.

THE GIRLS IN THE BAND tells the poignant, untold stories of female jazz and big band instrumentalists and their fascinating, groundbreaking journeys from the late 20’s to the present day.  These incredibly talented women endured sexism, racism and diminished opportunities for decades, yet continue today to persevere, inspire and elevate their talents in a field that seldom welcomed them.


It started with a phone call from a friend telling me that she’d met a woman who had been a big-band musician in the forties.  As a kid I spent my summers in Ocean Park where two great ballrooms were the star attraction.  As you walked the magical pier at night, you could hear the music drifting from those glamorous dance halls: Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, and especially the golden sound of Harry James’ trumpet.  That started my great love for big band music and, by the time I was in my twenties, I had seen or heard probably every major band that ever played the West Coast…never once did I see a woman play an instrument in any of those big bands.

True, there were a few all-female bands, such as Ina Ray Hutton’s Melodears and The Ada Leonard All-Girl Band, but to me they were mainly “novelty acts,” seen on television in the late-fifties…but real, honest, female big band musicians?  Not any that I knew of.

Still, as a documentary filmmaker, my curiosity was piqued and out of that came a desire to find out if there was anything worth exploring.  Much to my surprise, a lot of interesting information began to surface.  Yes, there were many women musicians who had devoted their lives to jazz and swing band music.  Not only in the past, but all the way through the 20th century and up to the present day.

The question then became: how good were they?  Were they worth making a documentary about?   Were there really any women instrumentalists who could hold their own with men?  Were there any who could play in a section…who could really swing…who could improvise jazz solos?  And were there any women who, if not for their gender, would have been considered giants in the big band/ jazz world?

Much to my surprise, a few men were interested in knowing these same things.  Armed with a dynamo executive producer, Mike Greene, and a couple of generous grants from Hugh Hefner and Herb Alpert, THE GIRLS IN THE BAND started taking shape.  Five years later all the questions have been answered and the film is in release.

We hope that the great joy we all had in learning about these amazing women, will be shared by the viewers and that the film will bring these artists the admiration and respect they so rightly deserve. This film is my tribute to their courage and musical artistry, which has never been properly celebrated.  It’s also an homage to my younger self who has never stopped loving jazz, music and the golden sound of a trumpet.

Our greatest satisfaction will come if this film can inspire a new crop of young female jazz musicians to stand on the shoulders of those early pioneers and to reach for the stars.