Mary Lou Williams Celebration to Take Place at Park Avenue, 2/20

Mary Lou Williams Celebration to Take Place at Park Avenue, 2/20

In celebration of Black History month, Arts at The Park's artist-in-residence Deanna Witkowski will lead a trio (with bassist Linda Oh and drummer Willard Dyson) and a 12-voice choir of professional jazz vocalists (including Sara Serpa, Tammy Scheffer, Miles Griffith) in a performance of works by the preeminent African-American jazz pianist, composer, and innovator Mary Lou Williams (1910-1981) who broke through her era's significant barriers to women jazz musicians. The concert will take place on Wednesday, February 20th at 8 pm at The Park Avenue Christian Church (known affectionately as "the Park"), 1010 Park Avenue at 85th Street in Manhattan.

Tickets are $50 Front Orchestra; $25 General Admission; $20 Students/Seniors at Witkowski will also facilitate a pre-concert talk starting at 7:15 pm on the importance and influence of Williams on current jazz musicians.

The featured work on the program is Williams' 1967 "Music for Peace," a monumental work of sacred jazz informed by the Civil Rights movement and the liturgical reforms of the Roman Catholic Church's Vatican II Council, as well as Williams' own deep personal faith. Her remarkably original settings of traditional liturgical texts embrace a compendium of jazz styles, from blues to bossa nova. Music for Peace, received with great acclaim, was later choreographed and performed by the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater as "Mary Lou's Mass."

The program will also include several of Williams' jazz instrumental compositions as well as musical tributes to Williams composed by Witkowski. An avid researcher of Williams, Witkowski has presented trio concerts of Williams' liturgical music at venues including the Kennedy Center, the International Association for Jazz Education conference, and Duke University.

Williams often stated that she wanted to be a force for emotional healing through her music. In the 1960s, Williams, who was always one step ahead of innovations in jazz, began focusing on music composition for the Catholic Church. Her service music inspired Duke Ellington to write his own Sacred Concerts, yet differed from Ellington's work in that her pieces were meant for use in actual services, rather than solely in concert settings. Williams' transition to composing for The Church marked a seven-year period that corresponded with liturgical changes within the Catholic church. From 1963 until 1970 she composed a number of hymns and three masses that garnered attention within the American Catholic Church as well as from the Vatican. In 1975, jazz was played for the first time in New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral, when Williams performed her work Mary Lou's Mass with her trio and a 60-voice youth choir.