Mary Lou Williams: The Lady Who Swings the Band

(Rochester, NY)  Filmmaker Carol Bash’s documentary Mary Lou Williams: The Lady Who Swings the Band, premiering Friday April 15th, 2016 on WXXI-TV, brings to the screen one of the most innovative yet unsung jazz pianists, composers, and arrangers of all time. “Trailblazer,” “pioneer,” and “awesome,” are some of the adjectives that international jazz artists today like Geri Allen, Carmen Lundy, and Terri Lyne Carrington use to describe Mary Lou Williams. 

Working at a time when women were expected to stay at home and raise children, Mary Lou Williams forged her own path and created some of the most sophisticated big band hits for Andy Kirk, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, and many other popular orchestras in the 1930s and ‘40s. She was truly a woman who swung the band.

In the 1950s, jazz icons like Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, and Bud Powell regularly visited Mary Lou Williams at her Harlem apartment to gain knowledge and inspiration. And in the 1970s, after her conversion, Mary Lou Williams took jazz in whole new direction—inside the Catholic Church.

But away from the piano, Williams was a woman in a “man’s world,” a black person in a “whites only” society, an ambitious artist who dared to be different and struggled against the imperatives of being a “star.” Above all, she did not fit the (still) prevailing notions of where genius comes from or what it looks like. Time and again, she pushed back against a world that said, “You can’t” and said, “I can.” It nearly cost her everything. 

Mary Lou Williams: The Lady Who Swings the Band features Academy Award-nominated actress Alfre Woodard as the narrated voice of Mary Lou Williams and contemporary musical performances by Geri Allen, Terri Lyne Carrington, Carmen Lundy, Esperanza Spalding, and a big band conducted by Wycliffe Gordon.

Pictured: Mary Lou Williams and her Band
Provided by: APT

 

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