Face the Music: Palaver Strings pays homage to jazz great Mary Lou Williams

Palaver strings. Photo by Christina Wnek

The 11 members of Palaver Strings will perform the 12 movements of “Zodiac Suite” in tribute to its composer, Mary Lou Williams, Thursday at the State Theater.

The Portland-based, musician-led string ensemble will perform an arrangement of the suite by Manhattan-based pianist Chris Patishall, whose trio will join in the performance.

Williams, who was born in 1910 and died in 1981, left an amazing legacy that includes his collaboration with Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and Benny Goodman and his influence on Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk.

Mary Lou Williams. [Portrait of Mary Lou Williams, New York, N.Y. ca. 1946] William P. Gottlieb (1917-2006), photographer. Public domain.

Williams started playing the piano when she was around 3 years old and her talent was already evident at the time.

When she was 6 years old and living in Pittsburgh, Williams, who is black, had to endure violence from white neighbors throwing bricks at the house where she lived with several siblings. Williams realized that these same neighbors were fans of her game, so to stop the attacks, she played for them in their homes.

Paying homage to Williams is part of Palaver Strings’ anti-racism mission, “(to examine) classical music’s legacy of exclusion and white supremacy, and how that legacy shapes our playing, our decision-making, and our ways of being together”. according to its website.

“I think if it weren’t for reasons of race and gender and what we consider gender boundaries, we would consider her one of the great American composers of the period,” said Lysander Jaffe, violist and co-artistic director of Palaver Strings. . “His work is finally getting some of the recognition it deserves.”

Jaffe noted that other bands, including the New York Philharmonic, have played the sequel, which Williams wrote in 1944. Each piece corresponds to the zodiac signs of his friends and peers, from the cheerful and playful “Virgo” to the darker and more serious. “Balance.”

“I had thought, I love this room, and it’s such an interesting meeting place between chamber music and jazz,” said Jaffe, whose brother is the bassist for the guest trio.

Palaver Strings will work with the trio for a week of extensive in-person rehearsals. The ensemble hopes for a good turnout due to the size of the State Theatre.

Palaver Strings: Zodiac
8 p.m. Thursday. State Theater, 609 Congress St., Portland, $20, $5 students. statetheatreportland.com

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