Umlaut Big Band plays
Mary Lou Williams contains within herself the full essence of jazz.”
— New York Times
Mary Lou Williams (1910-1981) is a pianist, composer and arranger. Pianist on stage and arranger in the shadows for Andy Kirk’s orchestra from the 1930s on, she aroused the curiosity of the public, because there were very few female instrumentalists in jazz. In the 1940s, she became the mentor of Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell and Dizzy Gillespie. During this period, she wrote for Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman, and collaborated with Cecil Taylor and Buster Williams in the 1970s. When she died in 1981, she left unfinished an ambitious suite relating the history of jazz.
Mary’s Ideas - Umlaut Big Band plays Mary Lou Williams is a musical biography. It is part of Umlaut Big Band’s portrait series of composers and arrangers and belongs to a more global reflection on the forgotten musicians of history.
This unique program is made up of original manuscripts, rare sound archives and unpublished scores gathered during a research trip in 2019 at the Institute of Jazz Studies (Newark, U.S.A) in partnership with the Mary Lou Williams Foundation.
Sometimes reconstructed from fragmentary sources, the works presented in this program bear witness to the richness of Mary Lou Williams’ career. The Umlaut Big Band offers to shed light on the life of an artist who spans more than fifty years of jazz history. Facing racism and sexism, she has fought to remain resolutely active, open to the various changes in jazz, and close to young musicians.
Even though a prolific and gifted musician, Mary Lou Williams remained all her life in the shadow of those for whom she was a colleague or a mentor. Even today, the processes of invisibility and disqualification of creative women continue and the quality of her work is still largely underrated.
Rooted in the practice of jazz, enriched by contemporary and improvised music, the Umlaut Big Band, directed by Pierre-Antoine Badaroux, has been involved since 2011 in the exploration of the sonic potentialities of the big band as well as highlighting arrangers as creative minds.
Although the orchestra initially mainly focused on jazz from the 20s and 40s, it has always made sure to get out of expected paths and themes and dare a cutting-edge repertoire, made up of discoveries. The music is brilliantly interpreted by 14 musicians from the «Nouvelle Vague» of French jazz.
With this great project, they offer to prevent the fascinating work of Mary Lou Williams from falling into oblivion and to share their encounter with her work.
The album "Mary's Ideas: Umlaut Big Band plays Mary Lou Williams" (double CD) is released on Umlaut Records, Sept. 2021.