In her lifetime and beyond, pianist-composer-bandleader Mary Lou Williams (1910-1981) confounded many jazz stereotypes, not the least of which was her creative fire as a woman working in a male-dominated scene. Her work and her significance in jazz is still being refined and revisited, in history books and in live and recorded settings. Beyond gender and style politics, though, Williams was also unique in that she converted to Catholicism and found her own path to happiness and musical expression. She was a soulful individualist, still deserving of wider recognition.
So it was no arbitrary or token gesture when Williams’ music-mostly from her 1970 jazz-cum-gospel opus “Mary Lou’s Mass”-showed up in a tribute concert in this season’s Los Angeles Master Chorale’s schedule. Fittingly, the acoustic-friendly Walt Disney Concert Hall filled with glorious sounds, from various cultural corners of the musical map, true to Williams’ multi-directional perspective. Led with typical boldness by Grant Gershon, the Master Chorale wove its sonorous sound with the Luckman Jazz Orchestra (L.A.’s fine new big band, based at Cal State Los Angeles), jazz singer Carmen Lundy, vocalist from the operatic/art song field Cedric Berry, and the internationally known, L.A.-based gospel group the Albert McNeil Jubilee Singers.