The IUP Jazz Ensemble, under the direction of Kevin Eisensmith, will present a lecture/recital featuring the music of Mary Lou Williams. This performance will begin at 3:30 p.m. in Gorell Recital Hall on Thursday, October 17, 2013.
A two-time Guggenheim Fellow later in life, Mary Lou Williams (1910–1981) was born in Atlanta, Georgia, but spent most of her childhood in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and showed herself to be a prodigious talent at the piano from a young age. She was on the road by the time she was 12 years old, earning a living as a band member with a group on the black vaudeville circuit.
At 18, she made her first solo piano recording of a song called “Nite Life,” a remarkable, three-minute tour de force of the stride piano style. She also joined her husband as a member of Andy Kirk and her Clouds of Joy, a “territory band” whose home base was Kansas City, a thriving center for the development of hard-swinging jazz in the 1930s.
She taught herself to read and write music and began arranging for the band, and quickly became the band’s chief arranger and composer in addition to her duties as pianist. In the 1940s, her style evolved, incorporating aspects of bebop as well as modernist art music. Her music was in demand from the leading bandleaders of the day, including Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman.
Williams’s career fell on hard times toward the end of the 1940s, and despite a successful extended tour in Europe in 1952, she walked away from music altogether for a short time.
Always a spiritual person, she found comfort and new life in the Catholic church, and by 1957 her priest convinced her to resume her music career and make the most of her God-given talents. From that time on she maintained an active performing and composing schedule and even accepted a teaching position at Duke University in 1977, a position she held until her death brought on by cancer in 1981.
This concert brings to Gorell Hall Williams’s music that was edited by Ted Buehrer in MUSA (Music of the United States of America) Volume 25, published by A-R Editions in 2013. The pieces that appear in the edition derive from various source materials, including autograph scores, sets of parts, and transcribed audio recordings. The music is notable for the ways in which it reveals the trajectory of Williams’s compositional style over the span of a remarkable 40-plus year career. Buehrer will narrate portions of the concert to provide historical context.
Ted Buehrer is a professor of Music at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. In addition to the above, he has also published editions of Mary Lou Williams’s Music for Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Essentially Ellington library (Alfred Music Publishing, 2009). In addition to his classroom teaching in music theory and jazz history, theory, and composition, he also leads the Kenyon College Jazz Ensemble. He was a 2006–2007 Fellow at the National Humanities Center (Research Triangle Park, N.C).
This concert is free and open to the general public. It will be repeated on Thursday, November 7, at 8:00 p.m. in Pittsburgh as part of the American Musicological Society’s annual conference. For more information, contact the IUP Department of Music at 724-357-2390 or visit the Music Department calendar.
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