Saturday, November 25, 2017

Judy Chaikin – The Woman Behind the Band

                                                  Courtesy of Director/Producer - Judy Chaikin

In Part II of my coverage on The Girls in the Band, I bring to Interiors another Female Interview Series, speaking with Girls in the Band Director, Judy Chaikin.

After interviewing Ms. Chaikin and conducting background research, I learned of the years she has dedicated to this historical project, her fundraising efforts and the hours of material gathered, which has allowed her to extend the film into an educational platform with post-commentary footage, offering poignant realities on the sexism female musicians encountered during the early jazz years, coupled with an enriching analysis on the current state of jazz.

Coming from a family of musicians and understanding the value of a music education, this is a woman whose unwavering determination has allowed us to experience a film that is quickly becoming a scholastic legacy on the history of jazz, as it bridges various interdisciplinary studies across academia.

This is Chaikin’s story on what it took to create this labor of love, the funders who made it possible, and an overview of her filmography. 

Interiors of Man: Please begin with the moment you became aware of female jazz musicians from the big band era and how your awareness of them inspired you to make this film. 

Judy Chaikin: A friend told me she had met a woman who was in her late 80’s who said she had been a drummer with a big band in the forties.  When I looked her up online I discovered that it was an all-girl band she had been with and then I learned that there were hundreds of all-girl bands but not very much was ever written about them.
IOM: One of the main funders for The Girls in the Band was Hugh Hefner.  Share with us what this project meant to him.

JC:  I have no way of knowing what the project meant to Hugh Hefner.  He never shared his reasons for wanting to support it but he has always been a big supporter of jazz and has had many women performers in his Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl.

IOM:  And Herb Alpert was another supporter.

JC:  Herb was a personal friend and he had helped finance my first film, “Legacy of the Hollywood Blacklist.”  That film was nominated for an Emmy award and Herb was proud of that and decided to support this film as well.  He gave me a matching grant and one year to fulfill it and Hugh Hefner stepped in and matched Herb’s grant and eventually doubled it.

IOM:  The film is educational in itself, exposing the public to female musicians during the height of gender resistance, while illuminating the political confrontations these women encountered with Jim Crow laws as a racially integrated band.

JC:  That is why the film is now part of the curriculum in Women’s Studies, African American studies and Jazz Studies.  We recently received an e-mail from the head of the Jazz department at Yale University informing us that ever since he saw the film he has completely revised his curriculum on the history of Jazz.

IOM:  Two points that stood out in your and Michael Greene’s commentary footage were your referencing the unfortunate losses we’ve incurred due to the lack of school bands, and Green emphasizing the fundamentals of a K-12 music curriculum to produce the type of professional musicians that were prevalent before the cuts in music education.

JC: Yes that is still the current situation.


IOM:  Being a graduate of AFI’s Directing Workshop for Women has more than likely predisposed your interest in films about women, as with GTB and your docu-drama on Sojourner Truth.  Takes us through your journey in deciding to create the Sojourner documentary.

JC:  I was predisposed to making films about women long before the DWW.  Even the Blacklist film was made from the point of view of the wives and children of the men who were blacklisted.  My first directing job was a stage play called “Womanspeak” in the late sixties during the initial years of the Women’s Revolution.  It was all about the historical women who had done important things. Margaret Sanger, Victoria Woodhull, Sojourner Truth, etc. The play starred Jane Fonda.

The film on Sojourner Truth was a job for hire.  The production company came to me with the concept.  I was more than happy to work on it but I did not initiate it.
IOM:  Before closing with a quote from Executive Producer, Michael Greene, what new projects would you like to add to your filmography?

JC:  I would like to do a film or a TV series about an African American all-Girl band.  That’s what I’m working on now.

IOM:  Look forward to seeing it.

For more information on The Girls in the Band’s education platform, visit


“… Jazz was a place where white America and black America had this very synergistic connection.”
 –  Michael Green
(Audio commentary from The Girls in the Band)