Araron Deihl honors First Lady of Piano, Mary Lou Williams on “Zodiac Suite”

Critically acclaimed pianist/composer Aaron Diehl’s penchant for the past influencing the future has come full circle with his fully realized suite of Mary Lou Williams’ Zodiac Suite — the first fully-fledged professional recording of this incredible music. Solely paying tribute to Mary Lou Williams was not the goal, as Diehl’s mission is to give honor and praise to one of the greatest composers of the 20th century and the forgotten rich history of Black Classical Music.

On his latest album, Zodiac Suite (September 15th, 2023 via Mack Avenue Records), Diehl pays homage to composer/pianist Mary Lou Williams while unearthing new possibilities and pathways from one of her landmark works. Joined by the orchestral collective The Knights and special guests Evan Christopher (clarinet), Nicole Glover (tenor sax), Brandon Lee (trumpet), and Mikaela Bennett (soprano), Diehl breathes vibrant new life into a masterwork that the composer herself was never able to fully realize during her lifetime.

Premiered in 1945, Zodiac Suite is best known in the trio incarnation that Williams recorded for the Asch label; within the same year she also performed the piece, each of its movements inspired by an astrological sign, in expanded versions for chamber-jazz ensemble at the Town Hall and for symphony orchestra at Carnegie Hall.

Listen to Aaron Diehl’s ‘Zodiac Suite’

“Mary Lou Williams evolved and changed over time,” Diehl says. “She lived through a significant portion of the development of 20th century music, but she always kept her foundation intact. The roots were always there. She struggled continually with people accepting her on her own terms and recognizing her significant contributions. I hope this album will encourage people to investigate more of her music.”

“It’s an ongoing challenge, even today, to incorporate the language of Black American folk music into this very Eurocentric identity with all its nuances,” he said. “I can only do my small part to celebrate Mary Lou Williams’ music whenever it’s possible because she was such a brilliant artist. It’s important to keep advocating on behalf of these folks who are no longer with us and to keep their music in people’s ears for generations to come.”


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