‘Soul on Soul’: Examining the Life and Music of Mary Lou Williams

July 1, 2021

According to DownBeat Magazine, Soul on Soul: The Life and Music of Mary Lou Williams by Tammy L. Kernodle (University of Illinois Press: September 2020) “serves as an essential text, working to set the record straight on one of the genre’s most significant — and conspicuously ignored — composers.”

On Sunday, August 15, Dr. Kernodle, African-American musician and scholar and University Distinguished Professor at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, will examine the six-decade career of Williams, a pianist, educator, arranger, and activist who died in 1981 at the age of 71. Using musical examples drawn from her vast oeuvre, Dr. Kernodle will explore Williams’ engagement with the musical practices of various local music scenes and the shifting sonic aspects of her sound identity. She will also examine how the racial and gender politics surrounding jazz culture in America significantly undermined her professional path and muted her contributions to the progression of the idiom. Dr. Kernodle’s live streamed presentation, at 3 p.m. EDT, is part of the Jazz Education series jointly sponsored by the Metuchen Arts Council-Jazz and the New Jersey Jazz Society.

Soul on Soul, according to the Women’s Review of Books, “ought to be required material in American history, music, and women’s studies courses. Maybe then, the jazz Williams created will receive the universal embrace it deserves.” Dr. Kernodle served as Scholar in Residence for the Women in Jazz Initiative at the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City from 1999-2001 and has worked closely with several educational programs including the Kennedy Center’s Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival, Jazz at Lincoln Center, National Public Radio, the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame Lecture series, and the British Broadcasting Corporation.

The August 15th presentation will be available on the New Jersey Jazz Society website, njjs.org, as well as on the NJJS Facebook page and YouTube channel. Attendance is free, but donations are suggested.

Future Jazz Education presentations will be: September 19, “Nat King Cole@100 (NKC100) by Will Friedwald, music writer and author of Straighten Up & Fly Right: The Life & Music of Nat King Cole; October 18, “An Informal Survey of the Great Baritone Saxophonists” by baritone saxophonist Frank Basile, a member of the Village Vanguard Jazz Orchestra and the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Band; and, November 21, “Ellington and Strayhorn: Alone and Together” by David Hajdu, Columbia University Professor, Music Critic for The Nation, and author of Lush Life, a biography of Billy Strayhorn.



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