By Danny R. Johnson
“In 1942, Viola Smith, a veteran drummer with 17 years of professional paradiddles under her belt, sent shock waves through the readership of Down Beat by extolling the existence of “hep girls,” female jazz musicians “who could sit in any jam session and hold their own.” A firestorm of letters-to-the-editor ensued, passionately debating the topic: Can women play jazz?”
Sherrie Tucker, Assistant Professor of Women’s Studies, Hobart & William Smith Colleges
The answer to the question posed by Down Beat in 1942 is relatively simple. Yes, women can play jazz. Women jazz musicians have proven for well over a 100 years they can play, groove, scant, sing, jive, compose, and jam just as good as men. Nowhere was that more evident than at the 15th Annual Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival, held at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, in May 2010.
The May 2010 three-day Festival displayed some of the hottest names in contemporary jazz and blues. The list of performers included two-time Grammy Award winner, Dee Dee Bridgewater, 2011 Grammy Award winner, Esperanza Spalding, the incomparable jazz pianist, composer, and singer, Geri Allen, multi-talented drummer and composer, Terri Lyne Carrington, jazz saxophonist, Virginia Mayhew, vocalist extraordinaire, Catherine Russell, Sherrie Maricle and the Diva Jazz Orchestra, Ann Patterson’s Maiden Voyage, and tenor saxophonist sensation, Grace Kelly. From this momentous occasion and cast of extraordinary jazz performers, the May 2011 release of the CD, ‘Walkin & Swingin’, Highlights from the Kennedy Center Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival, Volume 2 by The Kennedy Center Jazz Recordings, and co-produced by WBGO 88.3 FM in DC, makes this CD the BEST live recording of women jazz musicians performing anywhere in the world!
Jazz family, this CD has everything from big band tunes, trio, small ensemble, to hits from Mary Lou Williams’ classic repertoire such as “What’s Your Story, Morning Glory?” You will love the group’s rendition of Williams’ “In the Land of Oo Bla Dee,” which captures the rich and creative genius of this American treasure.
Mary Lou Williams – a renaissance jazz composer and artistic mentor
Mary Lou Williams (May 8, 1910 – May 28, 1981) was an American jazz pianist, composer, and arranger. Williams wrote hundreds of compositions and arrangements, and recorded more than one hundred records (in 78, 45, and LP versions). Williams wrote and arranged for such bandleaders as Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman, and she was friend, mentor, and teacher to Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Tadd Dameron, Dizzy Gillespie, and many others. The annual Kennedy Center Festival, which bears her name and the women who participated in this recording, is a testament of her enduring legacy 100 years after her birth. The Festival and the CD features legendary artists such as Dee Dee Bridgewater and Geri Allen who have helped shape the jazz art form, but it also features emerging contemporary artists who are making some noise on the jazz scene such as Terri Lyne Carrington, Grace Kelly, and Sherrie Maricle and the Diva Jazz Orchestra.
Terri Lyne Carrington has earned her place on the jazz scene
Terri Lyne Carrington is a gifted and electrifying drummer, composer, producer and clinician. After an extensive touring career of over 20 years with luminaries like Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Al Jarreau, Stan Getz, David Sanborn, Joe Sample, Cassandra Wilson, Clark Terry, Dianne Reeves and more, she recently released her latest CD called The Mosaic Project, which features an all-female all-star cast.
Jazz family, the ‘Walkin & Swingin’ CD has Terri Lyne written all over it! This young artist is a superb drummer who can go head-to-head with anybody in the business. Listen to her engage in a duet with Dee Dee Bridgewater on the “Cotton Tail” selection, in which she literally eats those drums and cymbals unmercifully. A drummer is like the backbone of any jazz ensemble; and Terri Lyne fits that backbone quite well with the commanding techniques she wields with those sticks! If you want to know more about Terri Lyne, check out her cool website at Terri Lyne Carrington website.
Grace Kelly, 19, is an astonishing saxophone player
Grace Kelly was voted “Best Jazz Act” in Boston three consecutive years in the FNX/Phoenix Best Music Poll, received the ASCAP Foundation’s Young Jazz Composers Award in 2007, 2008, 2010, and 2011 and won “Jazz Artist of the Year” at the Boston Music Awards in both 2008 and 2010. The 2009, and 2010, Downbeat Critics Poll added to her list naming her one of the “Alto Saxophone Rising Stars”, the youngest ever to be named so.
On the “Pisces from the Zodiac Suite” selection, Grace delivers a flawless and tremendous tenor sax playing, which is endlessly creative and contains flashes of originality that is stunning. Her tone and execution are always superb. Grace is staking out a place for herself in the jazz world.
The ‘Walkin & Swingin’CD is an historic and precious work of art in which all of these talented musicians dedicated their time and energy to produce. It is ironic that when this CD was being recorded in the Kennedy Center, Dr. Billy Taylor, Kennedy Center Artistic Director for Jazz
(1994-2010), and founder of the Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival, attended his last Festival in May 2010. Dr. Taylor passed in December 2010. It is only fitting that the Kennedy Center dedicated the ‘Walkin & Swingin’ CD in memory of Dr. Taylor, and in honor of Mary Lou Williams’ 100th Birthday (May 8, 1910).
San Diego County News strongly encourages the public to purchase a copy of this historic CD. The CD retails at $20 and is available in person at the Kennedy Center Gift Shops or online at www.kennedy-center.org/giftshop.
Danny R. Johnson is San Diego County News’ Washington, DC based Entertainment/Travel News Editor.