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Spanning three days, the festival distributes this mix astutely, ensuring that each night presents the audience a chance to sample a disparate array of music ranging from big-band swing, to fusion driven experimentation, to lyrical solo piano.
Begun as a tribute to the once unheralded contributions of pianist and composer Mary Lou Williams to jazz, the Kennedy Center's now annual Women in Jazz Festival has graduated into a one-stop shopping opportunity for audiences to hear some of jazz's most innovative voices. The upcoming 2007 event continues this tradition, offering once again a multi-generational, cross-sectional range of styles, instruments, and genres.
Spanning three days, the festival distributes this mix astutely, ensuring that each night affords the audience a chance to sample a disparate array of music, ranging from big-band swing, to fusion-driven experimentation, to lyrical solo piano. This model, repeated successfully over the last several years, guarantees that no matter what your taste in jazz, you're likely to hear something familiaras well as something to expand your conception of what this music is all about.
This year's line-up promises to fulfill this commitment to diversity, bringing to the stage everything from veteran performer Flora Purim's Brazilian vocals, to emerging clarinetist and saxophonist Anat Cohen's cross- cultural compositions. Frequent attendees of the Kennedy Center will also recognize several returning artists who have participated in past Kennedy Center events or played at the smaller KC Jazz Club, a testament to the Kennedy Center's increasingly important role as a showcase for jazz's emerging top talent.
Among this list are violinist Karen Briggs, whose raucous, scintillating playing stunned audiences in a 2004 performance at the Jazz Club; Mayuko Katakuro, the 2006 Women in Jazz Piano competition winner; the Ann Patterson Maiden Voyage Big Band, returning after 7 years away from the festival; the aforementioned Anat Cohen, who in last year's festival captivated listeners with her clever solos as part of the Diva Jazz Orchestra; and the astonishing piano virtuoso Hiromi Uehara, who last graced the Kennedy Center for the 2004 Jazz Piano Christmas, when she stole the show.
(Those interested in some advance scouting would do well to check out the latest, bold new release from Hiromi, Time Control, and Cohen's recent two albums, Noir and Poetica.)
Featured as well will be pianist Lynne Arriale; veteran singer-pianist Jeannie Cheatham and the Sweet Baby Blues Band; and vocalist Stephanie Jordan.
The three-day event will also include the presentation of this year's Women in Jazz piano competition finalist, and the Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Award, which will be bestowed on acclaimed saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom, whose unique instrumental voice has led to that special place reserved for those rare artists whose latest achievement can be measured only against their own series of groundbreaking accomplishments.
As this commentator has opined in the past, the day will come, we can only hope, when the need for a "women in jazz festival has become obsolete, or at least is recognized as what the Mary Lou Williams festival is gradually evolving into: a grand opportunity to experience at one time a fascinating cross section of modern jazz's diverse and dynamic spectrum.