Mary Lou Williams, Park Avenue, Arts at The Park, Deanna Witkowski
Williams wrote and arranged for such bandleaders as Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman. She was considered a major force in the in the birth of bebop and was a friend, teacher and mentor to the pioneering pianists, Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk as well as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Errol Garner and a list of other luminaries of the revolutionary post-Renaissance Harlem. She was one of the first female musicians who opened up the notoriously male-dominated jazz scene to instrumentalists of the opposite gender. Originating from boogie-woogie and blues, her harmonic style was constantly evolving, even leading to a performance in 1977 with the avant-garde pianist Cecil Taylor.
Regarding her deep faith, Williams converted to Catholicism in 1956 and was baptized as an adult at The Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola (long staffed by Jesuit priests) that happens to be situated on the same block as The Park. Following her spiritual conversion, Williams maintained a strong connection to the Jesuit community throughout her lifetime.
After a European tour in the early 1950s, Williams was deeply conflicted about appearing in clubs and secular venues. For several years, in lieu of performing, she poured her efforts working directly with jazz musicians recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. She also created a charitable organization and opened thrift stores in Harlem, directing the proceeds, along with ten percent of her own earnings, to musicians in need. So in the spirit of Mary Lou Williams, Arts at the Park will give ten percent of this concert's proceeds to the Jazz Foundation of America, a non-profit organization based in Manhattan that works to bridge the gap between Social and medical resources to jazz musicians in need.
Arts at The Park, a component of the Park Avenue Christian Church (known as "The Park"), brings together outstanding performers and ensembles from the greater New York City metropolitan area for programs that enrich and inspire and that touch our shared human story and experience. Arts at The Park include live music, theater, political and theological discourse, and family and holiday events. Artistic Director of Arts at The Park is Paul Vasile.