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The Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival

The Kennedy Center's long-running event continues on the path laid down by its founder, Dr. Billy Taylor

Kennedy Center Director of Jazz Programming Kevin Stuthers, Terri Lyne Carrington, Geri Allen and Dr. Billy Taylor at the 2010 Women in Jazz Festival
Dee Dee Bridgewater at the 2010 Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival
Mary Lou Williams
Dr. Billy Taylor

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, during his tenure 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 in May.

Surely, as well, Taylor would have thanked the festival’s performers. Collectively, they created a sweeping panorama both of women in jazz and of the music at large, as represented across the world. Japanese pianist Chihiro Yamanaka’s trio presented straight-ahead jazz that nevertheless took bold 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 mostly traditional Cuban music, supported by pianist Hilario Durán and NEA Jazz Master percussionist Cándido Camero, still spry and aggressive at 91. Linda Oh, a Chinese-Australian bassist, rooted her music in a staccato, uniquely syncopated groove that her bandmates supplemented with funk lines; drummer Allison Miller and her Boom Tic Boom, meanwhile, operated in a loose structure that worked swing, rock and even hip-hop.

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