The ensemble will be joined by pianist and NEC alum Carmen Staaf

By: Dec. 03, 2021

The NEC Jazz Orchestra presents Soul on Soul - The Music of Mary Lou Williams on Thursday, December 9, 2021 at 7:30 p.m. in NEC's Jordan Hall, 290 Huntington Avenue, Boston. Joining the ensemble will be NEC alum and pianist Carmen Staaf '05, 2009 winner of the Mary Lou Williams Jazz Pianist Competition. The concert will be broadcast internationally on Wednesday, December 22 at 7:30 p.m ET. For information visit

Described by Duke Ellington as "soul on soul," Mary Lou Williams was a supremely influential jazz pianist, arranger and composer for over 60 years. From "Mess-A-Stomp," recorded in 1929 by Andy Kirk and his Clouds of Joy, to "Shafi," composed in 1979, the concert will encompass an unusually broad range of jazz styles. The program will also feature compositions Williams wrote for Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington, including "In the Land of Oo-Bla-Dee," "Roll Em'," "Scorpio," "Walkin' and Swingin'," and "What's Your Story, Morning Glory?"

Pianist and composer Carmen Staaf is a rising force in the NYC and global music scenes. Currently, she is the pianist and musical director for NEA Jazz Master Dee Dee Bridgewater. Past performances include the Playboy Jazz Festival with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, Jazz at Lincoln Center with Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, and the Kennedy Center alongside Kenny Barron and Fred Hersch. Staff graduated with a dual degree from Tufts University (anthropology) and New England Conservatory (jazz performance), and quickly became one of the youngest faculty members ever hired by Berklee College of Music, joining their piano department in 2005. After a period of touring and recording, and winning the Mary Lou Williams Jazz Pianist Competition, she was accepted to the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance. Staaf co-leads the group Science Fair with drummer Allison Miller; the band's eponymous debut album features Ambrose Akinmusire, Dayna Stephens, and Matt Penman. She performs regularly with Allison Miller's Boom Tic Boom, violinist Jenny Scheinman and Allison Miller's Parlour Game (with Tony Scherr), drummer Jeff Williams, and vocalist/composer Thana Alexa. An active educator, Staaf has held faculty positions at the Berklee College of Music, the New School, Stanford Jazz Institute, Jacob's Pillow, Litchfield Jazz Camp, and the New York Jazz Academy.

The first fully accredited jazz studies program at a music conservatory, NEC's Jazz Studies Department was the brainchild of Gunther Schuller, who moved quickly to incorporate jazz into the curriculum when he became president of the Conservatory in 1967. Schuller hired Carl Atkins to head the department, as well as George Russell, Jaki Byard and Ran Blake. Among the "most acclaimed and successful in the world" (JazzTimes), the program has spawned numerous Grammy winning composers and performers and has an alumni list that reads like a who's who of jazz, while the faculty has included six MacArthur "genius" grant recipients (three currently teaching) and four NEA Jazz Masters. The foundation of its teaching and success begins with the mentor relationship developed in lessons between students and the prominent faculty artists. In addition to its two jazz orchestras, faculty-coached small ensembles reflect NEC's inclusive approach to music making, with groups focused on free jazz, early jazz, gospel music, Brazilian music, and songwriting, as well as more traditional approaches to jazz performance. Each jazz student is encouraged to find their own musical voice while making connections and collaborating with a vibrant community of creative musicians, and ultimately to transform the world through the power of music.

New England Conservatory (NEC) is recognized internationally as a leader among music schools, educating and training musicians of all ages from around the world for over 150 years. With 800 music students representing more than 40 countries in the College, and 2,000 youth and adults who study in the Preparatory and Continuing Education divisions, NEC cultivates a diverse, dynamic community for students, providing them with performance opportunities and high-caliber training with internationally-esteemed artist-teachers and scholars. NEC's alumni, faculty and students touch nearly every aspect of musical life in the region; NEC is a major engine of the vital activity that makes Boston a musical and cultural capital.


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