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Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival

Cindy Blackman

The Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival is no longer the risky, ground-breaking venture it once was. After more than a dozen years the Kennedy Center has honed the formula for success: mix different styles with established names and lesser known acts, hold a competition, hand out a few awards and keep it fun. It seems to be working as all three nights in the 500-seat Terrace Theater were sold-out in advance.

The festival began on a cute note as up-and-coming alto saxophonist Grace Kelly celebrated her 16th birthday on stage. The precocious Ms. Kelly has several things going for her, including a nice sound, some well-written tunes and a charmingly chatty way of connecting with her audience. In her solos, Kelly occasionally lapses into repetitive clichés, but it’s a good sign that she’s working with musicians who challenge her, especially the explosive drummer Terri Lynn Carrington and trumpeter Jason Palmer.

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