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Celebrating Mary Lou's Legacy

There’s so much going on in the world of the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra: concerts, recordings, parties, airports, and thankfully much more! Through it all, we consistently appreciate two things: participating in the jazz tradition, and sharing it with YOU, our beautiful community. Looking at the month of March, we’ve got some fantastic opportunities to do just that, and we can’t wait for you to join us!

Photographs courtesy of Labudde Special Collections, UMKC University Libraries

Jazz education for our community has increasingly been a driving force in KCJO’s day-to-day. It’s so important in building and shaping the jazz town Kansas City can be. I say this far too often: even though here in KC we’re known for jazz and barbecue, a whole lot more people can name their 27 favorite BBQ spots than can name their 27 favorite jazz musicians! We want to even that out a bit, and our easily accessible programming provides an opportunity to get ‘round the proverbial table and dig in.

We’re thrilled to celebrate Women’s History Month with some deep dives into the great Mary Lou Williams’ legacy. A couple years ago, we recorded an arrangement of her Zodiac Suite, to showcase her timeless compositions with a personalized arrangement, highlighting each member of our big band. We’ll share some insight into that work in March, as we welcome pianist and Mary Lou scholar Deanna Witkowski to Kansas City for free educational programs.

On March 11 from 3-5 p.m. at the Kansas City Public Library's Central Library, we’ll share a roundtable discussion with local scholars Chuck Haddix, Rashida Phillips, and Nina Cherry, as Deanna shares knowledge from her book on Williams, Mary Lou Williams: Music For The Soul, followed by a performance.

There are other events going on, constantly, and we would love for you to be there with us. Riff Generation, our new ensemble, has just started its second residency, and will be diving into what it means to be a 21st century Kansas City jazz artist, with this year’s set of 10 fantastic musicians creating new music in the moment. We are performing for school lunches with our JazzWorks program Jazz Café, and masterclasses and clinics as well. If you know any school program that would be interested in having us out, please drop me a line!

Jazz means so much to me. This city means so much to me. I truly want Kansas City to grow and thrive, and my heart is full with the idea that jazz will be the soundtrack to it all, to my - to our - home. In the words of Bobby Watson, “onward and upward!”

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