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Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival

Host Dee Dee Bridgewater, Allison Miller, Carmen Lundy and more at this Kennedy Center celebration

Carla Cook performs at the 2012 Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival; the Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C.
Carmen Lundy sings at the 2012 Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival; the Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C.

Two years after Dr. Billy Taylor’s death, his spirit still loomed over this year’s Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival. Now in its 17th year, the festival-a program of Washington D.C.’s John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts-was founded by Taylor in 1996, in his capacity as the Center’s Artistic Advisor for Jazz. His name, and gratitude for the program, was on the lips of the participants, including host Dee Dee Bridgewater, at the 2012 iteration from May 10-12.

Surely, as well, Taylor would have thanked the festival’s performers. His vision was not only to showcase female jazz talent, but to demonstrate the wide range of nations and musical facets they represent. The first night, Thursday, alone vindicated him. Pianist Chihiro Yamanaka, a native of Japan, is wildly successful in her own country despite now being based in New York. Her trio presented straightahead jazz that nevertheless took bold, challenging chances with its material, including a violent rendition of “Take Five” that reconstructed its syncopation even as it steadfastly maintained the tune’s 5/4 rhythm. Canadian saxophonist/flutist Jane Bunnett presented a set of (primarily traditional) Cuban music, supported by pianist Hilario Durán and NEA Jazz Master percussionist Cándido Camero, still spry and aggressive at 91. Vocalist Carmen Lundy closed Thursday night with a performance of new music from her 2012 disc Changes, her deep voice sacrificing precise articulation to the greater virtues of mood and effect.

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