Hello, Mary Lou.
Last month, I offered up what I thought was a well-reasoned blog post about memorials and anniversaries and tributes, about acknowledging the relationship between jazz and the specter of death. I'm resolutely against these tributes and the coverage that accompanies them. So, then, what did I do?
I accepted an assignment for a radio feature on the 100th anniversary of Mary Lou Williams' birth.
As a good friend of mine likes to say, I try to contradict myself at least three times a day.
I suppose I didn't have to accept the assignment for the story, though refusals of work are not part of the freelancers' credo. Maybe I should have? And stuck to my convictions? It was a great opportunity to get further into Mary Lou's work ...
Instead, I tried to think about the assignment as a challenge — to find a way out of the typical narratives we rely on with when we construct these stories: the rehashed biographies, the celebratory tone, death warmed over. I am, after all, a skeptic at heart. And I'd like to be able to favor the living.
So I tried to frame the report in a way that highlighted something about Mary Lou's legacy: the friction caused by the way she's become a kind of poster child for women in jazz. The Mary Lou Williams Festival has provided a much-needed opportunity for women in the field of jazz for the 15 years it has been in existence. Yet the women who participate often feel ambivalent about being part of a women's festival, even one that takes place somewhere as prestigious as the Kennedy Center.
I don't know that the attempt went far enough, but I'd be curious to hear your thoughts.
The Ex-Jazz Lover
Related At NPR Music: All our Mary Lou Williams centennial coverage.