Mary Lou Williams (1910-1981) is one of the greatest jazz pianists, composers, and arrangers of all time. A swing and bebop icon, she also devoted herself to aiding musicians in need and teaching younger generations about jazz’s rich African-American heritage. Williams’s first lessons on piano came from her mother. Once on the scene, top bandleaders of the day, such as Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong, and Duke Ellington, asked Williams to prepare fresh versions of popular songs for them, as well as her own original songs. She became known across genres and had her work performed by the New York Philharmonic. Williams also carried her music over to her church when she converted to Catholicism in 1954. Williams told the New York Post, “Americans don’t realize how important jazz is. It’s healing for the soul. It should be played everywhere — in churches, nightclubs, everywhere. We have to use every place we can.”
Denver pianist Tenia Nelson is integral to our music scene. Recently, Tenia won recognition as a 2023 Jazz Hero by the Jazz Journalists Association. She leads the Tenia Nelson Trio, or “TNT!”, and Spherio, a Monk tribute group. While working on her Master’s degree at CU Boulder, Tenia spent ample time studying the life and work of Mary Lou Williams. Tenia is an incredible pianist, and her dedication to music is also expressed by the passion she carries over to music education. Tenia has more than 20 years of experience teaching music in public schools, as well as teaching private lessons. She takes much pride in teaching young people about their possibilities in music. We are lucky to have Tenia as a member of the Gift of Jazz board as well.
This event is the Gift of Jazz annual fundraiser for our Jazz for the Schools programs. We are seeking to expand Jazz for the Schools into the Adams 14 school district and will continue to present our programs for Denver Public Schools eight times a year. Your ticket purchase will benefit this work! You will also receive a gift from us, as well as be able to enjoy champagne and pastries at the concert.