As few as 10 years ago women drummers were still considered a novelty. Now with organizations like Rain City Rock Camp for Girls championing women in music, there has never been a stronger presence of chicks with sticks. Locally, at this year’s West Seattle Summerfest, not only were there an extraordinarily high ratio of female musicians – Friday’s line-up saw nearly every band with a woman behind the drum kit. One of the formidable trailblazers in this just cause was Joani Hannan who is the titled subject of the documentary Presenting Joani: Queen of the Paradiddle by (drummers) Tina Gordon and Valerie Agnew showing Oct 17th at 20th Annual Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival. We recently caught up with Tina Gordon to talk about the Joani and the film.
How did you come to be aware of the film’s subject, Joani Hannan?
Tina: When I met Georgia Joan Hannan in 2006 when she was 77 years old. My dear fellow drummer friend Valerie Agnew made the introduction, “there’s this amazing older badass jazz drummer lady with a mouth like a sailor you have to meet.” I’m in I told her, I’d only been waiting all my life to meet an older female drummer. It had never happened, and I mean never. Valerie told me we needed to bring Joani brie cheese, saltine crackers, and Bud Lite. So we get to her house, deep in the hills in northern California, and I had no idea what to expect. In my mind there was this older lady, a jazz drummer so she must’ve been schooled, the female version of buddy rich? I was a little intimidated coming from a late bloomer d.i.y. make it up as you go along because every fiber in your being must play drums…she’s going to know I’m not schooled, she’s going to ask me if I know my rudiments, oh no!!! So I step inside Joani and Marion’s house. Marion answers the door and Joani belts out a greeting from the sitting room inside. I turn a corner and see her in all of her glory. Joani sitting in an embroidered high back chair beside an oxygen tank with tubes feeding her nose. Glorious glossy red lips and nails. Valerie and I sit down with Joani and Marion. And it was on…within five minutes we’re talking drums and tapping on everything around us, cans of beer, more cans of beer, bottles, glasses, tables, walls and windows… it’s all fair game. We’re laughing out loud and I’m just in unbelievable awe. Where have you been my whole life? By the time we left Joani and Marion’s a couple of hours later, I was charged with inspiration. “Someone’s got to make a documentary about this woman, she’s amazing.” Over the next few years over the course of shooting this film Joan, Marion, Valerie, and I all became dear friends.
What about Joani’s story spoke to you personally?
Tina: How was it that this woman forty years my senior could not only learn how to play drums in suburban Minnesota in the 1930’s when I wasn’t able to learn in San Francisco in the 1970’s? It totally blew my mind. I had to find some answers.I had the rare and life shifting opportunity to meet and spend time with a fiery drummer who at 80 years old and on oxygen kick my ass on a drum set with one hand tied behind her back, all the while drinking me under the table and telling stories till the sun comes up. Joani Hannan was a force of nature and the world deserves to meet her.
Did you see parallels in her struggle as a female musician in the ’50s and ’60s and your as one in the ’90s? What problems do you think have been solved? Which still need addressing?
Tina: When I was five years old watching television with my pops I saw Buddy Rich playing drums on PBS. I vividly remember the black and white image of Rich pounding and commanding a blazing solo, sweating and emoting. I was transfixed. I turned to my dad and told him that that was what I wanted to do. Though I grew up in the Utopian ’70s in San Francisco, where one would imagine a little girl could get some support in her pursuit of playing drums, it just didn’t happen. I approached music teachers in the public school system from 1978-1983 to no avail. They all wanted had experienced students or already had their lineup for the year, which were always boys, only boys. It did take me 18 years of slow percolating agonizing longing. As a rabid music enthusiast, I would watch drummers in awe regretting my unfulfilled path. I finally started playing drums at 23 with my first band TNT and have never looked back
How did you segue from music to filmmaking?
Tina: I got into filmmaking before playing drums. Filmmaking helped me learn how to make decisions and think more dimensionally which ended up really helping my confidence around playing drums and writing music from a place of improvisation as opposed to formal training. Once I started playing drums in a band, filmmaking became less of a priority.
Is there another subject you’re aiming to tackle with cinema?
Tina: I’ve always been interested in diverse subcultures, understated and underrated people, movements, and lifestyles.