A Woman in Time featuring Bethany Pickens and Amina Claudine Myers | Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park | Jazz | Chicago Reader

A Woman in Time featuring Bethany Pickens and Amina Claudine Myers Free Soundboard

When: Thu., Aug. 5, 6:30 p.m. 2010

The second concert in the city's series Made in Chicago: World Class Jazz pays tribute to one of the most fascinating figures in jazz history: pianist, composer, and arranger Mary Lou Williams. Williams wasn't the only female instrumentalist in prewar jazz, but her influence is unparalleled. She began her professional career as a teenager in Pittsburgh in the 1920s and within a few years was writing and arranging for Andy Kirk & His 12 Clouds of Joy, originally subbing on piano before becoming a permanent member on the instrument. She went on to arrange for Duke Ellington, Earl Hines, Benny Goodman, and Tommy Dorsey, host her own radio show, and mentor young boppers like Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk; her 1936 tune "Walkin' and Swingin'" would later provide Monk with a key melodic germ for his "Rhythm-a-Ning." In 1945 she completed her classic "Zodiac Suite," a powerful collection of trio pieces based on the astrological signs and some friends and characters who reflected their traits, and in the early 50s she moved to Europe for a couple of years. When she returned to the U.S. in 1954, she retired from music for three years to focus on her Catholic faith. But later works, such as her jazz interpretations of Catholic mass, reconciled her spirituality with her love of jazz. She retained open ears until her death in 1978; in '77 she even went head to head with avant-garde icon Cecil Taylor in a two-piano performance at Carnegie Hall. Tonight's concert, organized by Chicago pianist Bethany Pickens, features solo, trio, and big-band settings; Williams will also be saluted with a newly commissioned piece for piano and big band by keyboardist and composer Amina Claudine Myers, a former Chicagoan, who'll conduct. —Peter Margasak

Price: Free

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