Seventy-seven-year-old Clora Bryant refers to herself as a "trumpetiste" in a new documentary film chronicling her pioneering career as one of the few woman musicians to infiltrate L.A.'s Central Avenue jazz scene in the 1950s. Trumpetistically Clora Bryant emerged from a 1987 meeting between African-American filmmaker Zeinabu Irene Davis, a student in her mid-20s at the time, and Bryant when Bryant was 60 and seeking a bachelor's degree in music. Davis is currently a professor at UCSD.
Over the years that the film was in production, Davis made five other movies, got married, had a child, and worked as a high school teacher and part-time sound tech.
"I hope the film has a long life in the schools," Davis told the L.A. Times, "because to me the target audiences are young women who might be playing an instrument but who may get discouraged or ridiculed. In New York, there were a number of women musicians in the audience, and this is the thing that made me cry -- They said, 'Thank you for telling my story.' "
Davis's film details Bryant's impoverished youth in northern Texas, as well as early tours in the 1940s with a segregated all-girl band from Prairie View College. Her days playing trumpet behind Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, and Billie Holiday are covered, and rare concert footage from New York and L.A. appears alongside a clip of her on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1960. After touring the Soviet Union in 1989, the septuagenarian underwent quadruple bypass surgery in 1996 and was forced to put down her trumpet forever. In 2002, she was awarded the Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Award at Washington, D.C.'s Kennedy Center.
Trumpetistically Clora Bryant premiered this month and makes its West Coast debut February at the Pan African Film Festival in L.A. before touring art theaters (no area screenings at press time). It will air sometime in 2005 on PBS. One performance clip in the film includes a raspy voiceover by Dizzy Gillespie, a friend and fan of Bryant's, commenting, "If you close your eyes, you'll say it is a man playing."