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Music for Peace: the Sacred Jazz of Mary Lou Williams

Mary LouMary Lou Williams, the pianist, arranger, and composer whose career in jazz traced a line all the way from the Kansas City scene of the late 1920s through the swing era, bop, the 1950s jazz expatriate community, and an academic job at Duke in the late 1970s, also helped to pioneer sacred jazz in the early 1960s. After converting to Catholicism in the mid-1950s, Williams maintained a low, almost non-existent profile in the jazz world, emerging briefly in 1957 to play with Dizzy Gillespie at Newport. In the early 1960s she began composing jazz pieces with religious underpinnings, culminating in a series of jazz masses. We’ll hear material from the recently re-issued mass Music for Peace and the 1964 album Black Christ of the Andes (which includes guitarist Grant Green and saxophonist Budd Johnson on several tracks).

You can hear Mary Lou Williams in another Night Lights program, The Zodiac Suite.

Music Heard On This Episode

Miss D.D.
Mary Lou Williams — Black Christ of the Andes (Smithsonian Folkways, 1964)
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Miss D.D.
Mary Lou Williams — Black Christ of the Andes (Smithsonian Folkways, 1964)

Notes: Opening theme.

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Lazarus
Mary Lou Williams — Mary Lou's Mass (Smithsonian Folkways, 1970)
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Act of Contrition
Mary Lou Williams — Mary Lou's Mass (Smithsonian Folkways, 1972)
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Gloria
Mary Lou Williams — Mary Lou's Mass (Smithsonian Folkways, 1970)
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Medi I and Medi II
Mary Lou Williams — Mary Lou's Mass (Smithsonian Folkways, 1972)
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Credo (instrumental)
Mary Lou Williams — Mary Lou's Mass (Smithsonian Folkways, 1971)
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It Is Always Spring
Mary Lou Williams — Mary Lou's Mass (Smithsonian Folkways, 1969)

Notes: Written by Leon Thomas, arranged by Mary Lou Williams.

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People in Trouble
Mary Lou Williams — Mary Lou's Mass (Smithsonian Folkways, 1969)
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Jesus Is the Best
Mary Lou Williams — Mary Lou's Mass (Smithsonian Folkways, 1971)

Notes: Previously released only on a 45.

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St. Martin de Porres
Mary Lou Williams — Black Christ of the Andes (Smithsonian Folkways, 1964)

Notes: Written for Afro-Peruvian humanitarian St. Martin de Porres, first person of color to be canonized (by Pope John XXIII in 1962).

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The Devil
Mary Lou Williams — Black Christ of the Andes (Smithsonian Folkways, 1964)
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Anima Christi
Mary Lou Williams — Black Christ of the Andes (Smithsonian Folkways, 1964)

Notes: Featuring Grant Green on guitar and Budd Johnson on clarinet.

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Miss D.D.
Mary Lou Williams — Black Christ of the Andes (Smithsonian Folkways, 1964)

Notes: Written for MLW's socialite friend Doris Duke. Used each week as the opening theme of

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A Grand Night for Swinging
Mary Lou Williams — Black Christ of the Andes (Smithsonian Folkways, 1964)
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Praise the Lord
Mary Lou Williams — Black Christ of the Andes (Smithsonian Folkways, 1964)

Notes: With Grant Green on guitar and Budd Johnson on tenor sax.

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David Brent Johnson

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, David Brent Johnson moved to Bloomington in 1991. He is an alumnus of Indiana University, and began working with WFIU in 2002. Currently, David serves as jazz producer and systems coordinator at the station. His interests include literature, history, music, writing, and movies.

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