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Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Fest to Salute Abbey Lincoln

Noted festival, hosted by Dee Dee Bridgewater and held at Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, to feature performances by Dianne Reeves, Cassandra Wilson, Tia Fuller, Marlena Shaw and JaLaLa

Dianne Reeves St. Lucia Jazz Festival
Tia Fuller
Cassandra Wilson
Marlena Shaw

Back in 1996, Dr. Billy Taylor, who was Kennedy Center Artistic Director for Jazz, created the Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival in order to not only remember the legacy of the legendary pianist, but also to support and inspire female jazz musicians. The festival, which is held at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, is now in its 16th year.

This year’s festival, taking place on May 19-21, 2011, will be hosted by Dee Dee Bridgewater and will include performances from Marlena Shaw, Tia Fuller, JaLala and many others. The shows held in the Terrace Theater will be recorded for future broadcast on NPR’s JazzSet with Dee Dee Bridgewater.

On Friday, May 20, there will be a tribute to the late Abbey Lincoln, who was such a huge inspiration and influence for so many women. Among the performers saluting Lincoln will be Bridgewater, Dianne Reeves and Cassandra Wilson, with Terri Lyne Carrington acting as the Music Director.

Kevin Struthers, Director of Jazz Programming for the Kennedy Center, says that the festival remains committed to the original goals of its founder. “Since the Festival was founded 16 years ago, the profile of female jazz artists has risen dramatically, which was Billy’s intent,” says Struthers. “He started the event to raise awareness that there are plenty of amazing jazz artists out there, who just happen to be women, who certainly deserve wider recognition and exposure for the talented musicians they are. He particularly focused on instrumentalists, knowing that the general public often only thought of female vocalists, when they thought of women involved in the music. The Kennedy Center was the first major cultural institution to hold this type of event. With Billy’s intended effect, over the past 16 years, other presenters around the country have followed suit-including the strong line-up presented annually by Jazz at Lincoln Center. He always laughed when he told the story that when he approached the [Kennedy] Center brass about starting this Festival in 1996, the response he received was ‘are there enough women to even have a Festival?'”

Indeed, with the success of artists like Fuller, Anat Cohen, Hiromi and so many female jazz instrumentalists, some might wonder why there should even be such a thing as Women in Jazz Festival. In response, Struthers again cites his former colleague, Dr Taylor. “It’s exciting to think that Billy’s vision in the mid-90s for highlighting women involved in the music in this fashion has fostered public discussion about whether ‘women in jazz’ events are necessary at all,” Struthers says. “That shows that the awareness of women in the music has heightened to a degree that wasn’t there in 1996. He would be so proud!”

In 2006, the festival created the Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Competition as part of the Festival, which highlighted performances by up-and-comers. Featured instruments included the piano and saxophone, but Struthers says that because the performances were so strong they decided to shift from a competition to a showcase. The Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Emerging Artist Workshop will provide female jazz artists, from 18 to 35 years old, with an opportunity to learn from leading jazz artists and educators. This year, the workshop will focus on piano and participants will perform on the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage on May 20-21, 2011.

“The cool thing is that the types of discussions we used to have during the Business of Jazz seminars, which we used to have way back in the late ’90s, are now held with this small group of women while they are here for four or five days,” Struthers explains. “The Showcase Artists usually number five or six, and they spend four or five days under the tutelage of folks like Billy, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Sherrie Maricle, and Joanne Brackeen, who talk to them not only about performance and music, but also their real life experiences working in the business.”

For more information about the Festival and Artist Workshop, you can visit the Kennedy Center’s website.

Here is the schedule of events and performances:

Thursday, May 19

6 pm, FREE

Millennium Stage

Singer Charenée Wade

Thursday, May 19

7 pm, Tickets: $38

Terrace Theater

Vocal group JaLaLa made up of founding members of the Manhattan Transfer Janis Siegel and Laurel Massé, and Lauren Kinhan of New York Voices

Flutist Jamie Baum and her Septet

Saxophonist Tia Fuller and her Quartet made up of pianist Shamie Royston, drummer Kim Thompson, and bassist Miriam Sullivan.

Friday, May 20 & Saturday, May 21

6 pm., FREE

Millennium Stage

These concerts feature Jennifer Allen, Tara Buzash, Carolina Calvache, Laura Dubin, Martha Kato, Amy Rowe, ArcoIris Sandoval, and Mamiko Watanabe-the pianists selected for the second class of the Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Emerging Artist Workshop in a program of standards and original works.

Friday, May 20

7 pm, Tickets: $38

Terrace Theater

A Tribute to Abbey Lincoln (1930-2010), with Terri Lyne Carrington as Music Director, features vocalists Dee Dee Bridgewater, Dianne Reeves, and Cassandra Wilson.

Saturday, May 21

7 pm, Tickets: $38

Terrace Theater

Multi-instrumentalist Corky Hale

Duo of pianist Peggy Stern and saxophonist “Sweet” Sue Terry

FIVE PLAY with special guest Marlena Shaw.

Originally Published