The Girls in the Band–The Official Site of the Music Documentary

January 23, 2015

Dear Judy,

Noemi gave you, via the Box Office Report, a bit about the circumstances and a few details regarding audience response to Fundy Film’s screening of The Girls in the Band last evening (January 28) at the Acadia Cinema’s Al Whittle Theatre, Wolfville, Nova Soctia, Canada.  In wrapping up the DCP and Blu-ray for shipment, however, I wanted to take the opportunity to add my voice as well.

Indeed, Nova Scotia was whacked by the snowstorm Tuesday and Wednesday and even though it was not the primary day, Wednesday was snowing on and off all day, schools were closed and roads were challenging due to overnight freezing rain.  So yes, our attendance suffered from The Weather.

That said, those of us who braved the conditions were royally rewarded!  The Fundy Film Society has a regular documentary series and into our 14th year of screenings, we’ve had a lot of really fine docs.  But audience applause at the end of a film is rare, so this is something you can be very proud of.  As a Fundy Film volunteer, I usually sit at the very back of the theatre, but as I was “off-duty” last night, I was able to sit with musician friends dead centre, enabling me to really share in the audience experience / response during the film.  This was wondrous and only served to reinforce why we at Fundy Film struggle week to week to offer Big Screen viewing to our wider community.  Because, like me, the audience members too were fully engaged, and it was most rewarding for me to be a part of the on-going collective and personal responses to the film’s narrative.  And I can always tell how a film is received by the nature of the “buzz” on the way out of the theatre and the “chatter” in the lobby after the screening.  Folks were blown away and truly loved this film.

I haven’t stopped thinking about the film, to be honest–the stories of these women, as a group and as individuals.  The film gave us precious access to them and they–their lives and accomplishments–were awesome, inspiring, poignant, endearing, delightful.  And such good humour they expressed!  From so many angles and on so many levels, this film enlightened and stretched us all, giving us hope.

A group of local university students, all women and many of colour, were treated to the film by their instructor.  Most had never previously been to any of our films or even to this theatre.  I can’t tell you how satisfying it was for Fundy Film to have been able to introduce these young women to The Girls in the Band on the Big Screen.

It was my partner and I who discovered the film, pitched it, pushed for it, and gave Noemi the contact to locate you so we could book it, and are we all, at Fundy Film, ever so glad we did!

Thank you! most heartily to the whole The Girls in the Band team from a wee film society with a wee audience in a wee town in Nova Scotia, Canada.

With Mahalo and Aloha,

S. J. Hauer for the Fundy Film Society, Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada

Hello Judy,

Would love to talk with you about your show. I’m not sure if you’re with the group that interviewed my mother a while back, but I’ve been trying to track them down for a while to get the footage.

My mother was Barbara Neece. She played with Ada Leonard for quite awhile starting in 1949. She was the youngest to join the band and was known as baby Barbara. She played piano for the band and even met her future husband through Ada Leonard’s Drummer, Jerrie Thill. He was on the road with the group, the Merry Macs.

My Grandmother and Great Aunt also go back in the Jazz age having played for Babe Eagan and her Hollywood Redheads. I have videotape of my Great Aunt telling stories about what it was like on the road at that time. Including when George Burns was upset when they received top billing, what happened when they were playing Germany and had to get the Jewish girls out of there because the Nazis were just starting to take over, etc.

I would love to talk with you and also know if you had interviewed my mother in the past for this project. She did many interviews but I never received the names of the people and/or production companies.Thank you for doing a project like this. I’m so glad this history is being preserved. Take care and I look forward to speaking with you soon.

Laura Dayton

A fan letter from percussionist, Carolyn Stallard:

Hello Judy,

I hope you are well.

I’m not sure if you remember me, but my name is Carolyn and I am a percussionist living in Albany, NY. I met you at the 2012 JEN conference, where I was very moved by the short clips of “The Girls In The Band” shown at the conference. At that time, I was attending the conference with ten musicians from my college…all male…and was feeling a little out of place with the group as a whole. Those short clips really inspired me, and I still think about the women in them often.

Funnily enough, I am doing a bit of spring cleaning in my apartment today and came across the business card you gave me at the conference. The timing is perfect because I just overcame what I consider a major modern-day barrier for women in jazz last night and have been thinking a lot about the women who have overcome so much before me.

I am part of a forum for vibraphonists online, and after overcoming my “barrier” last night, I wrote a blog post about it on the site. I think it’s relevant to what we are all trying to accomplish and overcome as female jazzers even in today’s society, so I would like to share the blog entry:

Groovy Girl Gigging

My experience “sitting in” at a gig

Oh what a night!

Tonight I did something I never thought I would do: I drove 45 minutes to a jazz club to sit in with pro musicians I barely know who’ve been playing longer than I’ve been alive. Wow…I will admit I almost chickened out, but I’m glad didn’t!

As a rule, I try not to go anywhere late at night by myself. All you dudes out there, I’m sure you don’t hear “Be careful” and “Please watch out for yourself” anywhere near as often as I do. Hearing this always makes me think twice about going out alone; it’s just not something I’m comfortable doing. Most of my friends aren’t as enthusiastic about jazz as I am, so as much as I want to, I don’t make it to many gigs. I try to convince myself to go alone, but then all the “Be careful”s echo in my ears and I chicken out. Maybe this is one reason there are so few female jazz musicians…it’s not easy to convince oneself to go to bars alone!

But…tonight I was bold! Recently I heard of a drummer who gigs on vibes too, so I emailed him and he said if I came to his gig tonight he’d let me sit in.

This was my first time “sitting in” with a group, and I had a blast! I played two tunes during the first set, and it was amazing. I was so in the zone, and I didn’t care that half the bar wasn’t listening; I was playing my heart out! The band invited me back up to play two more tunes during the next set, and after that…craziness! People wanted to shake my hand, one dude said I made his night, another wanted to start a band with me, I was given musicians’ business cards, the band invited me to sit in any time I want..amazing! I even felt more comfortable in the bar, because when I wasn’t playing I had a seat near the band and I felt like they had my back. Plus, everybody who talked to me wanted to talk about my playing rather than my…well you know.

I think this experience was good for me. Here’s why it rocked:

1) It was so so so so so so so amazing to be recognized for my music….as a musician…and not as some cute girl standing with the band.

2) It was amazing to hold my own with these professionals, to understand their signals and even catch when they wanted to trade fours.

3) It was so cool to call tunes and have the guys follow my lead. A year or two ago I would have NEVER had the courage to call a tune with a group like this…yet alone four tunes!

4) My network is expanding. These guys gave me tons of advice, told me what gigs to go to so I can introduce myself and get my name out there and just PLAY.

5) My confidence is rising. I’ve never been scared to play, just too shy to ASK to play. Now ‘ve conquered the challenge of going to a bar alone and calling tunes. I’m sure all the “Be careful”s will still echo in my head in the future, and for good reason, but I have a better understanding of when to be bold and just go to the gig!

On my drive home tonight (er…this morning?), I was so happy. I can’t believe I convinced myself to do this. I’m going to keep working hard and hopefully sit in on more gigs, because this was such a positive experience.

One thing I also learned was how ANNOYING it is when everyone calls your instrument a xylophone. It bothered me in college when non-percussion majors would call every mallet instrument a xylophone, but I forgot how maddening it is! Who’s with me? Let’s make signs and educate the world!

Okay…just wanted to share my experience. Be bold, friends. Charlie Parker bombed his first time sitting in on the bandstand but kept going back, so there’s no reason to chicken out. I still think male musicians have a heck of a lot of an easier time playing in clubs, but tonight made me appreciate guys who support the female musician in a respectful way when she wants to play with their group (believe me, I have experienced being recognized as a musician after playing, and as a girl, and I SO prefer the first option).

Life is good, I love my vibes, the end.

Now go play!

…I know my experience last night could have easily not been as worthwhile as it was, and I think that’s an important hurdle to acknowledge. Guys usually don’t have to think about what will happen if they want to go to a club alone to try to jam with the band, but for women (at least for me), it’s a very scary thing to consider. It took me a very long time to work myself up to go to the club alone last night, even though I was really excited for a chance to play, just because of what being alone could mean. Just figured I’d share the experience. Thank you so much for creating a film to recognize all the women who have overcome so much more than I have; they are my inspiration every step of the way on my jazz journey. I’m almost ashamed to admit I still have yet to see the entire film, but I have been keeping an eye on the schedule and hopefully sometime soon a showing will take place close to my area on a date I can make. Keep up the great work!

All the best,
Carolyn Stallard

From Larry Serlin and Marlene Opila, about their mother, Shirley Moss –

Shirley Goldberg Serlin (stage name: Shirley Moss) toured as the pianist of the Sharon Rogers Band (aka Sharon Rogers All-Girl Orchestra) in 1944-1945. Departing from Chicago, their hometown, the band first toured in the Great Lakes region, then through the lower Midwest to Texas and across the South. This tour ended with a two month stand at the Atlantis Club in Coney Island, New York. In June 1945 the band was recruited and joined the USO. After playing USO Camp Shows in New York, New Jersey and California, the Sharon Rogers Band embarked on a Pacific tour in August 1945. Shirley had studied classical and jazz piano at the Chicago Conservatory of Music. Her gift of perfect pitch gave her a special facility for jazz improvisation. To quote Laura Daniels of the Sharon Rogers Band, “Shirley was the finest musician of the group. We all agreed with that fact.” She could play anything in any key after hearing it one time.

In 1947, Shirley along with Sharon Rogers, Gee Jay Bogan, Bobbie Taliferro and Laura Daniels of the Sharon Rogers Band formed a combo which played regional venues. Shirley played professionally in various combos and as a solo pianist until the early 1960s. In 1963 she got a full-time day job, but continued to play occasional shows and benefits, and proudly maintained her membership in the musicians’ union. A highlight of the 1970s was meeting Alan Alda while playing piano at a benefit for the Equal Rights Amendment campaign. The members of the Sharon Rogers Band were bonded as lifelong friends and had frequent reunions which were always centered around Shirley at the piano. Sadly, Shirley died from breast cancer in November 1983 at only 61. She had attended her last band reunion only a few months before her death.

Dear Judy and Nancy,

Here’s a story I have for you about the Harlem photo shoot. It was so great seeing everyone – some old friends I hadn’t seen in a long time, and some from faraway places. I’m so grateful to you for bringing us together, as the feeling of community and sisterhood was palatable.

The story starts with a concert I did a few months back with a quintet at a healthcare facility – which itself is unusual since I usually play only solos and duos at these places. At the end of the concert as the band was packing up and the audience was being pushed out of the auditorium in their wheelchairs, one gentleman remained. His nurse approached me and asked if I had ever heard of a musician named Horace Silver. I said yes of course, he’s jazz royalty, he’s the man! She pointed to the man in the wheelchair and said, “That’s him.”

I went over and paid my respects, and was so moved by the fact that he wanted to meet us. He was very frail and not quite able to speak at the time but communicated nonetheless with his eyes, which sparkled at me intensely. I then told the band, who practically dropped their instruments and went and stood in line to meet the Master. Each paid his and her respects, and it was really quite humbling.

Several weeks later I went to Harlem for the shoot. We were reminded that we could stand anywhere we liked, in anyone’s “shoes” from the original photo, and while just about all my heroes are there I didn’t have a particular spot I wanted to stand in. I just gathered with the women and stayed in the moment, and enjoyed every minute. It was a very special event. Of course when I got home the first thing I did was go to the huge print of the original photograph over my desk and see whose spot I was in: it was Horace Silver’s!

Thanks again for making this happen, you ladies are now my heroes too.

Jan Leder

Hello Judy!

I saw your movie the other day and thought it was such an outstanding piece of work – wow. Thank you to you and all your team for making this film! I hope it brings you all much success as I’m sure it has already.

I knew that there were a few well-known woman lyricists during that time, but that’s all I knew.

I noticed the movie website asked for stories, so here’s mine – I hope you find it interesting:

From a very young age I discovered my perfect pitch and my love of composition, but my parents and piano teachers took no special notice of my music writing talents; if anything my talents were poo-pooed or I was made to feel guilty about it. It wasn’t until I met my husband Richard that I started pursuing it, because he strongly encouraged me to.

Well, needless to say I didn’t get to go to Berklee in Boston or USC, or any of those fancy places, so I had to start from scratch on my own and learned as I went. I did study orchestration privately at the conservatory for a couple of years, which was immensely helpful.

It has been a very long, uphill journey, but I think I may be seeing some light at the end of the tunnel. About 4 years ago I stumbled onto the idea of writing and arranging jazz big band songs, as I figured that market was probably a lot less saturated than was the pop market (which was what I had been doing), and I might have a better chance of getting somewhere. I took out some books on arranging from the university library, and in about a month’s time, I taught myself the basics of arranging. My very first arrangement got me a (free) mentorship with John Clayton – I had researched him and sent my work to him in the hopes that he’d listen. Well, he did, and for the last 3 years I’ve been writing under his direction. In the summer of 2010 he invited me down to his studio to go over some of my scores in more detail.

Thank you for reading. The reason I wanted you to know this is because as you know, there are very few women arrangers out there too. I know because I’m one of them. I definitely feel that to get anywhere, my work has to really stand out and be better than the rest. That’s just the way it is, just like it is for women musicians.

Warm regards,

Daphne Kalfon