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Virginia Mayhew Quartet: Mary Lou Williams – The Next 100 Years

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Virginia Mayhew’s ambitious, labor-intensive research project into the art of Mary Lou Williams began in 2009. She needed a female jazz musician to memorialize for a “Women in Jazz” festival. She chose Williams when she discovered that 2010 would be the 100th anniversary of Williams’ birth.

Mayhew admits that prior to undertaking the investigation, she was unaware of the breadth and depth of Williams’ career. She is not alone. Williams died in 1981, and today her music is more heard about than heard. But in the 1930s and ’40s, she was the most important female pianist, composer and arranger in the male-dominated world of jazz. Many major bandleaders of the swing era, from Andy Kirk to Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington, used her tunes and charts. Williams was a restless, curious artist. She embraced bebop in the ’50s and in 1977 recorded in duo with Cecil Taylor at Carnegie Hall. She wrote several hundred compositions, but the only one that can be called a standard is “What’s Your Story Morning Glory.” It had a second life with new lyrics as “Black Coffee,” and was recorded by everyone from Sarah Vaughan to k.d. lang.

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