Mary Lou, We Hardly Know Ya ...


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The Princeton University Concert Jazz Ensemble will be paying tribute Saturday to Mary Lou Williams, possibly jazz's most overlooked genius, on the centennial of her birth.

Maybe it was her gender, maybe it was the company she kept (she worked for Dorsey, Goodman, Ellington ... you name it, anyone with a decent band in the 1930s wanted her arrangements), maybe she's just not had the kind of continuous presence many others have gotten; whatever the reasons, it's time to correct the oversight and give her her due.

Let's hope this concert goes a long way towards doing so. If it doesn't, it won't be because of the music: the jazz ensemble -- directed by Anthony Branker -- will play Williams' “New Musical Express," “Mary's Idea," “Walkin' and Swingin,'" “In the Land of Oo-Bla-Dee" and other standards she wrote or arranged.

Tickets are $15 and can be reserved here.

If you want to sample Williams' work, check out the fun novelty boogie-woogie “47th Street Jive," or “Harmony Blues." On for a longer listen, try the “Zodiac Suite" from 1945. Later on, Williams took to writing gospel music, capped by the beautiful “Black Christ of the Andes" in 1964. She returned to writing jazz, releasing such gems as 1974's soul jazz outing “Zoning."

Mary Lou Williams' unerring ear kept her composing through five decades of music, and she was always able to bring something new to her work. She deserves wider recognition and appreciation, which Saturday's concert may help launch.

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This story appears courtesy of The Augmented Ear by John Patten.
Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved.


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