The Kennedy Center

Moving with the Spirit: The Sacred Jazz of Mary Lou Williams


Dr. Tammy L. Kernodle is an Associate Professor of Musicology. She graduated cum laude with a BM in choral music education and piano from Virginia State University. She then received her MA and PhD in Music History from The Ohio State University. Her scholarship has focused mainly on various genres of African American music, American music and jazz. She has served as the Scholar in Residence for the Women in Jazz Initiative at the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City, Missouri and has lectured extensively on the operas of William Grant Still, the life and religious compositions of jazz pianist and composer Mary Lou Williams. Her work has appeared in "Musical Quarterly," "American Music Research Journal," and a new anthology addressing the contributions of women to music entitled "Women's Voices across Musical Worlds." She is the author of the biography "Soul on Soul: The Life and Music of Mary Lou Williams,"(Northeastern University Press) which chronicles the life and music of Williams, whose career in jazz spans over six decades.

Continuing in a tradition while pioneering new ways of viewing the world around them has always been the daily work of artists, whether they be jazz musicians or religious mystics. In the case of pianist/composer/vocalist Deanna Witkowski, the paths of practicing the disciplines of living as a jazz musician and as a person of faith have converged in her beautiful, genre-defying fourth recording, From This Place. Marrying ancient and modern sacred texts with the richness of jazz, Ms. Witkowski has saved her most honest and soulful music for this new release. From This Place finds Ms. Witkowski leading a core quartet, with Donny McCaslin on saxophones, John Patitucci on acoustic and electric bass, and Scott Latzky on drums. Her previously documented wide-ranging stylistic and emotional palette is broadened by the addition of guest vocalists Laila Biali, Peter Eldridge (of the New York Voices), and 2009 Grammy-nominated Kate McGarry. With its emphasis on breathing new life into texts from nineteenth century poets, the Mass, scriptures, and her own pen, Ms. Witkowski shows another side of her considerable talent: a stunning gift to find the essence of a text and to translate that essence into sound along with a contemplative spirit as an original lyricist. Ms. Witkowski’s previous three releases, Length of Days (2005), Wide Open Window (2003), and Having to Ask (2000) clearly demonstrated her prowess as “one of the best of the new generation of jazz pianists” (Jazz Journal International) and showcased her rich fusions of jazz, Brazilian, and Afro-Cuban music. Her “consistently thrilling playing” (All Music Guide) was publicly confirmed in 2002 when she won the Great American Jazz Piano Competition. Subsequent invitations to appear on National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition Sunday and Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz followed in 2003. Ms. Witkowski’s 2009 itinerary includes a return appearance on Weekend Edition Sunday on Easter Sunday (April 12th) and a May appearance at the Kennedy Center with her project, Moving with the Spirit: The Sacred Jazz of Mary Lou Williams. Moving with the Spirit is the official educational component of the annual Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival, and has also been presented at Duke University and at the International Association for Jazz Education conference. Ms. Witkowski also embodies a love of Brazilian culture. Fluent in Portuguese, she has toured twice in Brazil, most recently appearing at the Recife Jazz Festival. Her travels have also led to performances at the Tel Aviv Opera House and Espaço Bis in Rio de Janeiro. She spent the summer of 2004 touring internationally as the pianist for vocalist Lizz Wright, and since 2006 has been the pianist in the BMI/New York Jazz Composers Orchestra, led by Jim McNeely. She holds a M.A. in jazz piano performance from the City College of New York and a B.M. in classical piano performance from Wheaton College (IL).
Moving with the Spirit: The Sacred Jazz of Mary Lou Williams