Jazz Orchestra in Birthday Tribute to a Jazz Immortal
On her 100th birthday—Saturday May 8-- HSU Jazz Orchestra celebrates jazz immortal Mary Lou Williams, with the first public performance of her arrangement of one of her songs. The concert also features a song by a North Coast favorite son.
Together with jazz classics from the AM Jazz Band on Thursday, this is the final HSU jazz concert of the school year. Both concerts are in Fulkerson Recital Hall, beginning at 8.
Born on May 8, 1910, Mary Lou Williams played jazz piano in Pittsburgh beginning as a child, and went on the road to perform, write and arrange in the twenties and thirties. Her stellar career continued until her death in 1981. “Mary Lou Williams is perpetually contemporary,” wrote Duke Ellington in his autobiography. “Her writing and performing have always been a little ahead throughout her career. Her music retains, and maintains, a standard of quality that is timeless. She is like soul on soul."
A highlight of the Jazz Orchestra birthday concert is the world premiere public performance of the arrangement she wrote for the Duke Ellington band of her song "Ogeechee River Lullaby." It features local jazz vocalist Bill Allison.
The Jazz Orchestra will also play Williams’ first known composition, "Mess-a-Stomp," recorded in 1929, as well as several of her tunes from the 1930s (“Mary’s Idea,” “Big Jim Blues,” “Walkin’ and Swingin’”).
From her 1940s output, the Jazz Orchestra selects some seldom heard pieces, like "In The Land Of Oo-Bla-Dee" (which also features singer Bill Allison), as well as a section of her signature Zodiac Suite: “Scorpio.”
After withdrawing from performance in the 1950s to concentrate on charity work, Mary Lou Williams made a triumphant return in the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival, and never looked back. The Jazz Orchestra will play several of her late 1960s compositions, including “Aries Mood” and “New Musical Express.” “With their sometimes startling dissonances,” said orchestra director and HSU Music professor Dan Aldag, “these works show that Williams had kept up with the many changes in jazz.”
The Jazz Orchestra will play other works in addition to Mary Lou Williams' music, including “Recollection,” by Arcata favorite son, Nathan Smith. Smith graduated from Arcata High, earned music degrees in Florida and at the Eastman School of Music, and has won several awards for his compositions. In addition to leading a 10-piece band in New York, he transcribes older jazz compositions from recordings, and recreates scores for new performances. “In a nice piece of symmetry,” Dan Aldag notes, “his most recent transcribing work has been of some of Mary Lou Williams’ music.”
A few nights before the Jazz Orchestra concert, the AM Jazz Band performs other jazz classics, including tunes by John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Freddie Hubbard and Tito Puente. Philip Sagastume is featured on tenor sax on "I Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good)" by Duke Ellington.
The AM Jazz Band performs on Thursday, May 6, and the Jazz Orchestra on Saturday, May 9. Both concerts are in the Fulkerson Recital Hall at 8 pm, and prices are the same for each: $7 general, $3 students/seniors, from the HSU Ticket Office (826-3928) or at the door. Free to HSU students with ID. Both ensembles are directed by Dan Aldag, and the concerts are produced by HSU Music Department.