Calling them "stars" is putting it mildly. This amazing group delivered an exuberant, committed, one-night-only concert at the 15th Annual Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival. Then, one by one, took off to fly higher and higher.
In this group, Geri Allen takes Mary Lou Williams' seat at the piano. Allen is a professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and she just led her trio in a live concert from the Village Vanguard, which you can listen to here. Alto saxophonist Grace Kelly was only 18 on this night at the Kennedy Center. With NEA Jazz Master Phil Woods, who does not suffer fools, Kelly recently released a new album, Man With the Hat.
In Feb. 2011, bassist Esperanza Spalding won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist, a history-making upset. Drummer Terri Lyne Carrington — who went to Japan with Spalding's group immediately after Grammy night — teaches at Berklee College of Music, arranged Williams' music for this group and split the role of festival emcee with vocalist and JazzSet host Dee Dee Bridgewater. Bridgewater, by the way, is also a recent Grammy winner for her album of music by and for Billie Holiday, Eleanora Fagan: To Billie with Love from Dee Dee.
The occasion was the 100th anniversary of Mary Lou Williams' birth (1910-1981). Half the music in this set is by Williams. Spalding contributes a tune, and the set ends with a jam session on two standards: "Cotton Tail" and "All Blues." Woman to woman in "Cotton Tail," Bridgewater faces off with T.L.C., Allen and Spalding, and finally coaxes Kelly out of the wings and into the zone. The group's extraordinary improvisation provides the climax of the night.
Something extra happens before the soft landing of "All Blues." A hint: Candles were burning, and Bridgewater was surprised.
Surround Sound mix by Duke Markos. Recorded live at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.