Mary Lou Williams Collection at
the Institute of Jazz Studies

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Introduction

Collection at IJS

Early Roots

Kansas City & the Clouds of Joy

Modern Jazz & Cafe Society

William Gottlieb Photo Essay, 1947

Europe & Travels in the 50's

Chuck Stewart Photo Essay, 1957

Religious Conversion

Lioness in Winter

Selected Recordings & Readings
 

Fr. Peter F. O'Brien, S.J., Williams'longtime manager and executive director of the Mary Lou Williams Foundation, recently examined original music manuscripts with pianist Geri Allen at the Institute of Jazz Studies. In October 2000, Allen gave the first performance of The Zodiac Suite in 55 years, in addition to playing other Williams' compositions and arrangements as part of the exhibit Mary Lou Williams: In Her Own Right at Flushing Town Hall. In September, Allen performed Mary Lou's Mass in Denver with the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Company. Photograph by Tad Hershorn
 


MLW Collection in the stacks at IJS.

The Mary Lou Williams Collection, measuring about 170 cubic feet, constitutes the most extensive archival documentation of William's life (1910-81). It represents her career as a pianist, composer, arranger, music publisher, independent record producer, and her tenure as artist-in-residence at Duke University between 1977 and 1981. She was a noted humanitarian, and established a charitable foundation to aid drug- and alcohol-dependent musicians. Hundreds of pages of autobiographical writings, as well as her other writings, show her to be a keen and spiritual observer of her life as an independent African-American woman and as a seminal, progressive, and vital figure on the jazz scene for nearly six decades.

Her fastidious record-keeping (e.g., contracts, ASCAP royalty statements, copyright agreements, and voluminous correspondence with musicians, fans, attorneys, and managers) paints a rich portrait of the life and working environment of the professional jazz artist. In addition, the materials vividly convey key aspects of jazz history and illuminate facets of American social life during the time Williams was active. Other printed materials, such as fliers, posters, programs and memorabilia, convey the excitement and diversity of her experience and the rarified company she kept with other top-tier jazz musicians. The greatest of these artists honored her as a peer; younger musicians, particularly women, saw her as a trailblazer.

Likewise, the musical scores representing approximately 350 of her compositions and arrangements, and the many unique sound recordings will prove satisfying to musical scholars navigating the expanse of jazz history and the striking stylistic changes William's work embodies. Access to these materials should renew interest in performing, recording, and reissuing William's works.

The Collection is divided into two components. The Mary Lou Williams Collection includes those materials covering her career from the 1920s until her death in May 1981. The Mary Lou Williams Foundation Collection details the activities of the Foundation in promoting jazz education and disseminating William's work. The Foundation Collection contains documentary materials accrued since her death, and seeks to encourage further donations through publicity and active solicitation of potential donors.


Veteran jitterbuggers relive the joys of Kansas City jazz at Flushing Town Hall, site of the exhibition, Mary Lou Williams: In Her Own Right, in September 2000. Photograph by Tad Hershorn

 

 

The overall Collection includes materials in a variety of formats: original, transcribed, and reconstructed music manuscripts and scores for big band, small group, and piano; sheet music; correspondence and other autobiographical writings; audio and videotapes; commercial sound recordings; scrapbooks; clippings; printed materials; photographs; artworks; and memorabilia, including her book collection.

Interest in and use of the Mary Lou Williams Collection, despite its unprocessed state, has been substantial and sustained since 1981. For example, March 1999 saw an acclaimed performance of Mary Lou's Mass at Washington's National Cathedral. This first-time reconstruction of the Mass score was facilitated by scores held at IJS, in consultation with Fr. Peter O'Brien, S.J. William's friend and confidant since 1964, manager for 11 years, and executive director of the Mary Lou Williams Foundation since its founding. The event was recorded for national distribution by National Public Radio in May 1999 as part of a seven-and-a-half-hour package on Williams available for rebroadcast over the next three years. Another segment of the NPR programming features performances recorded especially for the tribute by leading contemporary jazz pianists Geri Allen, Renee Rosnes, Eliane Elias, Mulgrew Miller, and Hilton Ruiz, along with multi-instrumentalist David Amram, and Buster Williams, the bassist who performed frequently with Williams in the 1970s and 1980s.

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