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Celebrate Mary Lou Williams Centennial with Aardvark Jazz Orchestra

SOURCE: Published:
Mary Lou Williams Mary Lou Williams Centennial Celebration: From Swing to Sacred Music, a Journey of Faith

Aardvark Jazz Orchestra with special guests Geri Allen, pianist and narrator Father Peter F. O'Brien.

Sunday, May 9, 2010 at 8:00 pm

Boston College, Robsham Theatre, 140 Commonwealth Avenue, Chestnut Hill, MA. MBTA: Green Line, B-Branch, Boston College Station. Parking nearby.

Admission: $20, $15 Advance Purchase (by April 30, 2010) Box Office: 617-552-4002 Information: 617-776-8778

“Mary Lou Williams is perpetually contemporary. Her music retains a standard of quality that is timeless. She is like Soul on Soul." (Duke Ellington)

The Aardvark Jazz Orchestra (music director Mark Harvey) will celebrate the centennial of American jazz great Mary Lou Williams (1910-1981) in a concert May 9, 2010 at 8:00 PM at Boston College (Robsham Theatre), Chestnut Hill, MA. The concert will feature internationally renowned pianist Geri Allen, a noted interpreter of the music of Mary Lou Williams, together with narrator Father Peter F. O'Brien, S.J., who was Mary Lou's long-time friend and manager and now serves as Executive Director of the Mary Lou Williams Foundation. Joining the celebration will be two Boston College ensembles: BC bOp!, the jazz ensemble of Boston College (Sebastian Bonaiuto, Director) and the Mary Lou Williams Centennial Choir of Boston College (JoJo David, Director). $20 ($15 advance purchase by April 30). Box office: 617-552-4002.

The May 9 concert is the only major Mary Lou Williams centennial tribute currently planned in New England.

Pianist and composer Mary Lou Williams is one of our great American composers, an African American who rose to prominence in the pre-Civil Rights / pre-Women Rights era when female big band composer-arrangers were rare. Called The First Lady of Jazz, Williams wrote for and performed with Andy Kirk's Twelve Clouds of Joy (one of the leading Territory Bands of the 1920s and 30s), and she composed for illustrious orchestras including Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman and Dizzy Gillespie. She gave the premiere of her masterwork, the twelve-movement Zodiac Suite, in Carnegie Hall. Following a spiritual crisis in the 1950s, Ms. Williams became a Roman Catholic in 1957 and began to compose sacred music, including Black Christ of the Andes, in honor of St. Martin de Porres, and three complete masses, the most famous being Mary Lou's Mass, performed at the Vatican.

In 1976, Aardvark director Mark Harvey presented Mary Lou Williams in concert at Boston's Emmanuel Church, featuring the Boston premiere of Mary Lou's Mass, with Father Peter O'Brien, a choir from the Elma Lewis School of the Fine Arts, and storyteller Brother Blue.

The May 9 concert at Boston College will showcase the full range of Williams' creative genius across five decades of composing, including swing-era classics like Roll 'Em (made famous by Benny Goodman), rarities written for Duke Ellington, the seldom-heard Scorpio from Zodiac Suite, and sacred music including Geri Allen's arrangement of Praise the Lord from Mary Lou's Mass. As narrator for the evening, Fr. Peter O'Brien will share reminiscences of the life and work of Mary Lou Williams, drawing on his almost 20-year association with the legendary artist.

Geri Allen, pianist and composer, has toured the U.S., Europe, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and elsewhere, collaborating with artists as diverse as Ornette Coleman, Dave Holland, Ron Carter, Ravi Coltrane, Dr. Billy Taylor, Ruth Brown, Wayne Shorter, Betty Carter, Charlie Haden and Paul Motion, Clark Terry, and Carmen Lundy. Ms. Allen played the role of Mary Lou Williams in Robert Altman's film Kansas City and has performed Williams' music with Jazz at Lincoln Center, and at the San Francisco Jazz Festival, the Kennedy Center, the Iridium Jazz Club, Duke University's Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture, and many other venues.

Founded in 1973, the Aardvark Jazz Orchestra specializes in original exploratory works by founder and music director Mark Harvey, together with wide-ranging repertory spanning the jazz and American music spectrum. Winner of the 2000 Independent Music Awards, Aardvark has premiered more than 100 works for jazz orchestra and has released 10 CDs including 5 discs on the prestigious Leo Records label. Jazz Review (UK) touted Aardvark's “imagination, exuberance and sheer brio," while Jazz Improv praised “an unapologetic creative edge...all the soloists play with passion and conviction." The band's latest CD, American Agonistes (Leo Records) has been called “a stunning hour of music that is, in turn, beautiful, poignant and raucous" (billboard.com).

Mark Harvey has performed as trumpeter in the U.S., Mexico and Europe; has recorded with George Russell and Baird Hersey; and performed with Gil Evans, Claudio Roditi, Howard McGhee, Sam Rivers, and others. A composer with over 120 works in his catalogue, he has received awards and commissions from ASCAP, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the 15th Annual John Coltrane Memorial Concert, the Organization of American Kodaly Educators, and Meet-the-Composer-Lila Wallace/Reader's Digest Commissioning Program, among others. An ordained Methodist minister, Dr. Harvey has given lectures and workshops on music, religion, and culture throughout the United States and in Europe. He teaches jazz studies at MIT.


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