Does anybody embody the history of 20th-century jazz as much as Mary Lou Williams
? The arc of her career extends from the territory bands and Kansas City swing of the 1930s to the heights of the big-band era, the bebop movement of the 1940s, the American expatriate jazz of the post-World War II era, the sacred-jazz trend of the 1960s, and the emergence of jazz education in the 1970s. Only Duke Ellington
, Miles Davis
, and Benny Carter
can compare to her in terms of long-running musical achievement that spans several generations of jazz evolution.
A mentor to several key figures of the bop era, a friend to troubled jazz musicians, and a pioneer for women in jazz, Williams' impact on jazz history goes beyond her considerable musical skills. Still, it is her artistic work that's at the heart of her legacy, driven by her deeply spiritual but creatively restless personality, and her ability to absorb and reflect many influences in a sound all her own. The Night Lights program A Brief History of Mary Lou Williams" traces this remarkable musician's life in music through early recordings with Andy Kirk
and His Twelve Clouds of Joy to a 1977 encounter with avant-garde piano icon Cecil Taylor