Saturday, June 11, 2011

Mary Lou Williams Music Celebrated Wonderfully

One centerpiece of the Jazz program that the Kennedy Center initiated a number years ago under the direction of the late Dr. Billy Taylor is the annual Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival. At this year’s festival, held May 19-21 in Washington, Kennedy Center Jazz Records issued Walkin’ & Swinging: Highlights From the Kennedy Center Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival No. 2.

The CD compiles performances from the 2010 Festival which celebrated the centenary of the birth of Mary Lou Williams. Williams was a renown jazz pianist, composer and arranger whose career spanned the territory big bands to modern jazz where she befriended numerous visionary jazz artists including Herbie Nichols, Thelonious Monk and even played duets with Cecil Taylor. Last year’s festival celebrated Williams in a program devoted to her music (with the exception of the closing Ellington
Cotton Tail).

The recording opens with a rendition of
Walkin’ and Swingin,’ the Williams composition that was the theme for Andy Kirk and His Clouds of Joy, the Territory Band that helped Williams gain prominence. It is one of three performances by Sherrie Manicle & The DIVA Jazz Orchestra and the contours of the performance are not far removed from the Clouds of Joy original. The other two selections featuring this Big Band have them fronted by the wonderful vocalist Catherine Russell on What’s Your Story, Morning Glory? (Pha Terrell sang on Kirk’s 1938 original recording), and In the Land of Oo Bla Dee. The latter number was an amusing original that she composed during the hey day of bebop and Ms. Russell provides a fine treatment that I am sure Dizzy Gillespie would have approved of. One other performance employs a big band and that is Ann Patterson’s Maiden Voyage on Scratchin’ In the Gravel/ Truth. Scratchin’ was originally for a septet and then arranged for Duke Ellington in 1966 and the performance here is a medley of the two treatments, wonderfully scored and played with a very impressive tenor saxophonist (Ms. Patterson?).

A couple of performances showcase pianists.
Miss D.D. showcases some wonderful playing by Geri Allen as part of The Women in Jazz All-Stars, joined by Esperanza Spalding on bass and Terri Lynn Carrington on drums, while Carmen Staff interprets Aries, from the ambitious The Zodiac Suite, with the incorporation of boogie woogie and strides in this intriguing solo showcase. Tenor saxophonist Virginia Mayhew transcribed several Williams solos that Mayhew employs in her performance of a hot blues, Medi II. The phenomenal young saxophonist Grace Kelly, displaying her somewhat incisive, dry tone, is featured on the Women in Jazz All Stars as they play Terry Lynn Carrington’s arrangement of Pisces, the last movement of The Zodiac Suite. Kelly’s playing shows a maturity far beyond her years while displaying the influence of Lee Konitz with whom she has recorded with.

This disc concludes with Dee Dee Bridgewater joining the All-Stars for a rousing
Cotton Tail, a feature in the Ellington Band for Williams friend, Ben Webster. It is a remarkable performance with Bridgewater leading with a stellar scatting performance with a rousing piano solo from Allen and solos from the others. Its the longest performance here and a moment of musical magic including trading fours with Kelly that ends this terrific celebration of the 2010 Festival and the music of Mary Lou Williams. It is available from the Kennedy Center,

This was a personal purchase.

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