Women's History Month 2021
Pianist/composer and Steinway Artist Connie Han has been described as “a decisively brazen talent with an exhilarating control of her skills and vision” by All About Jazz. On her imminent Mack Avenue release Iron Starlet, Han manifests "an intimate clairvoyance into all that has come before her” with “uncompromising vitality” at the piano. Her powerful vision takes in the full evolution of her forebears, from iconic innovators like McCoy Tyner and Hank Jones through the Young Lions revolution spearheaded by the Marsalis Brothers, Kenny Kirkland and Jeff “Tain” Watts, among others.
“The music’s intention is to continue a legacy of tough, primal, raw but still intellectually engaging jazz,” Han declares. When discussing her new album, the 24-year-old is unafraid of using the word “tradition,” secure in the fact that she’s not a throwback but a fresh voice inheriting a legacy of raw power and urbane lyricism in the jazz piano idiom.
According to Downbeat Magazine, Han possesses “skills as a bop player of fearsome ability, a supple balladeer, and a groove merchant par excellence.” She has “already absorbed the post-bop piano masters” with “all the technical mastery she’ll ever need.” The New York Times describes her as “the rare musician with fearsome technical chops and a breadth of historical knowledge.” Jazziz Magazine predicts Iron Starlet will “confirm her as one of the brightest young stars in jazz.” On this trajectory, Connie Han continues on her stratospheric ascent in the jazz world as a major force to be reckoned with.
Helen Sung is an acclaimed pianist and composer. Born and raised in Houston, TX, she studied classical piano and violin and attended Houston’s renowned High School for the Performing & Visual Arts (HSPVA). Continuing her classical piano studies at the University of Texas at Austin, a chance meeting with jazz music caused an eventual course change: she went on to graduate from the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance (at the New England Conservatory) and win the Kennedy Center's Mary Lou Williams Jazz Piano Competition. Now based in New York City, Helen has worked with such luminaries as the late Clark Terry, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter, Wynton Marsalis (who named her as one of his “Who’s Got Next: Jazz Musicians to Watch”), MacArthur Fellows Regina Carter and Cecile McLorin Salvant, and Terri Lyne Carrington’s Grammy-winning “Mosaic Project.” Helen and her band have performed at major festivals/venues including Newport, Monterey, SFJAZZ, Disney Hall, and Carnegie Hall. Internationally, her “NuGenerations” Project toured southern Africa as a U.S. State Department Jazz Ambassador, and recent engagements include debuts at the London Jazz Festival, Jazz at Lincoln Center Shanghai, Blue Note Beijing, and the Sydney International Women’s Jazz Festival. In addition, she currently performs with fine ensembles including the Mingus Big Band and McLorin Salvant’s Ogresse. Helen followed her jazz chart-topping Concord Jazz release Anthem For A New Day with Sung With Words, a collaborative project with the celebrated American poet Dana Gioia, supported by a Chamber Music America/Doris Duke Foundation New Jazz Works grant. In 2020 she was awarded an NYC Women’s Fund grant for Quartet²: a project combining her jazz quartet with a string quartet. Helen has also completed composition commissions for the West Chester University Poetry Conference, North Coast Brewing Company, JazzReach, and a composer residency at Flushing Town Hall. Inspired by her experience at the Monk Institute, she stays involved in music education through residencies and workshops, and also produced a Jazz Week program benefiting underserved youth in Camden, NJ. In 2017, the University of Texas College of Fine Arts awarded her its most prestigious honor – the E. William Doty Distinguished Alumna Award, and HSPVA inducted her into its Jazz Hall of Fame. She has served on the jazz faculties at the Berklee College of Music, the Juilliard School, and Columbia University, where she also was the inaugural jazz artist-inresidence at Columbia’s prestigious Zuckerman Institute in 2019. Helen was named a Steinway Artist in 2020.
In 1954, twenty-six-year-old jazz pianist Lorraine Geller recorded what would be her sole album as a leader: Lorraine Geller – At the Piano. She worked hard and played widely with big names like Miles Davis and Philly Joe Jones. Her touch was firm and elegant, her solos full of complex ideas and shifting moods, and she could cook on the fast songs. Along with pianists Jutta Hipp, Mary Lou Williams, and Mary McPartland, she was one of the few female instrumentalists playing in this male-dominated, mid-century genre. A week after playing the first Monterey Jazz Festival in 1958, she died from pulmonary edema. She was thirty-years-old.
Lorraine’s career developed quickly. From 1949 to 1952, she played with an all-female big band named the Sweethearts of Rhythm. Led by vocalist Anna Mae Winburn, its earlier incarnation was the first racially integrated all female-group in America, had toured widely and garnered a big following. Although this period of Lorraine’s musical life is hazy, in 1949 she found herself in Los Angeles jamming with an alto saxophonist named Herb Geller.
They hit it off and kept playing together, and romance blossomed. Herb was playing with Billy May’s and Claude Thornhill’s orchestras in New York, so he and Lorraine moved there in the fall of 1952 and got married. That year, she played with trumpeter Norma Carson’s all-female group, which did a brief residency at The Welcome Bar in Atlantic City. When May’s band relocated to Los Angeles in 1953, the Gellers did too, and they built themselves into in-demand players.As the JazzTimes put it: “For the next half-decade, the Gellers were integral participants in the heyday of so-called West Coast jazz.” They did studio work to make money. They played shows at night and recorded albums during the day, joining big names like Clifford Brown, Red Mitchell, and Dinah Washington. And they formed their own quartet, called The Gellers, which released three albums in 1954 and 1955. In 1955, they moved into a house in the Hollywood Hills.
During her Los Angeles years, Lorraine alone played with a who’s-who of West Coast jazz, including Zoot Sims, Stan Getz, Red Mitchell, and even Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. But the jazz life was inconsistent. Lorraine took gigs in strip clubs to make money. Lots of people did. It was a booming supplemental market. As pianist Dick Whittington told Ted Gioia in West Coast Jazz, during some of the 1950s, “The bottom dropped out so far as jazz work was concerned … there were probably ten strip joints in LA, and they would hire a three-piece band. They’d have saxophone, piano, and drums. No bass─they didn’t feel they needed that. They just wanted a melody and the rhythm, especially that drum beat. Everyone worked strip gigs. Hampton Hawes, Carl Perkins, Walter Norris, Herb and Lorraine Geller.”
One of the most important developments in her career was the rise of a club in Hermosa Beach called The Lighthouse. In 1949, the bar’s owner let bassist Howard Rumsey host a regular Saturday night jam session there; when it became popular, Rumsey became club manager, and he built the place into one of the centers of West Coast jazz from the 1950s to the 1970s. Touring bands played there. Record labels recorded live albums there. The club even birthed its own group called─blandly─the Lighthouse All-Stars. Early iterations featured saxophonists Gerry Mulligan and Sonny Criss, with pianists Sonny Clark and Hampton Hawes. One version included Lorraine.
When the famous bop drummer Max Roach came from New York to temporarily replace the Lighthouse’s house drummer in 1953, he brought Miles Davis and Charles Mingus with him. On Roach’s first night playing the venue on September 13, both Davis and Baker played trumpet together. Davis famously disliked Baker (you can see this in Ethan Hawk’s movie about him, Born to Be Blue), and this was the only time the two played music together. Lorraine provided the piano. A fan recorded the show. It took thirty-two years for the tapes to surface officially, and the recording, titled At Last!, captures a hard-hitting Geller playing over an overly hard-hitting Max Roach on drums.
Lorraine Geller died suddenly at age 30.
Hailed as one of the most accomplished pianists and educators of her time, Geri Allen was, among other roles, Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Pittsburgh. She performed with renowned pianist McCoy Tyner, and was also part of two groundbreaking trios: ACS (Geri Allen, Terri Lyne Carrington, and Esperanza Spalding) and the MAC Power Trio with David Murray and Carrington – their debut recording Perfection was released on Motéma Music in 2016 to critical acclaim.
She was the first woman and youngest person to receive the Danish Jazzpar Prize, and was the first recipient of the Soul Train Lady of Soul Award for Jazz. In 2011, she was nominated for an NAACP Award for Timeline, her Tap Quartet project. Over the last few years, Allen served as the program director of NJPAC’s All-Female Jazz Residency, which offered a weeklong one-of-a-kind opportunity for young women, ages 14-25, to study jazz.
Having grown up in Detroit, a region known for its rich musical history, Allen’s affinity for jazz stemmed from her father’s passion for the music. She began taking lessons at 7-years-old, and started her early music education under the mentorship of trumpeter Marcus Belgrave at the Cass Technical High School. In 1979, she was one of the first to graduate from Howard University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in jazz studies. It was there that she began to embrace music from all cultures that would ultimately influence her work. During that time, she studied with the great Kenny Barron in New York City.
In New York, Allen met Nathan Davis, a respected educator who encouraged her to attend the University of Pittsburgh where he served as Director for their Jazz Studies department. She followed his advice and earned her Masters Degree in Ethnomusicology in 1982. In 2013, she became their Director of Jazz Studies upon Davis’ retirement.
While at UPITT, Allen’s commitment to community outreach and bridging educational inequities manifested through her pioneering engagement on the research education network of Internet2 and CENIC, where she connected virtually to universities and cultural institutions across the country, collaborating with artists and technologists such as Terri Lyne Carrington, Chris Chafe, George Lewis, Michael Dressen, Jason Moran, Vijay Iyer and the SFJAZZ High School All-Stars.
She was also the musical director of the Mary Lou Williams Collective, recording and performing the music of the great Mary Lou Williams, including her sacred work Mass For Peace. Allen also collaborated with S. Epatha Merkerson and Farah Jasmine Griffin on two music theatre projects: “Great Apollo Women,” which premiered at the legendary Apollo Theatre, and “A Conversation with Mary Lou,” which premiered at the Harlem Stage as an educational component for the Harlem Stage collaboration. The University of Pittsburgh hosted the first ever Mary Lou Williams Cyber Symposium where Vijay Iyer, Jason Moran, and Allen performed a three piano improvisation from Harvard, Columbia and the University of Pittsburgh in real time using Internet2 technology.
Allen was a recent recipient of the Howard University Pinnacle Award presented by Professor Connaitre Miller and Afro Blue. She has served as a faculty member at Howard University, the New England Conservatory, and the University of Michigan where she taught for ten years. In 2014, Allen was presented with an Honorary Doctorate of Music Degree by Berklee College of Music in Boston. The Honorable Congressman John Conyers Jr. presented the 2014 Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Jazz Legacy Award to Allen.
Throughout the late ‘90s and early 2000s, Allen continued to be a pioneer for the genre both as a side-woman and as a leader. Her improvisational virtuosity was displayed on Ornette Coleman’s 1996 release of Sound Museum, her 1988 release The Gathering, and again in 2004 with The Life a Song featuring Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette. In 2010 her solo piano album, Flying Towards the Soundwas critically acclaimed and was rated “Best of 2010” on NPR and DownBeat magazine’s Critics Polls.
Allen’s commissioned work “For the Healing of the Nations” in 2006 was written to pay tribute to the victims, survivors, and family members of the September 11th attacks. This special tribute was performed by the Howard University’s Afro Blue Jazz Choir and included performances from jazz musicians such as Oliver Lake, Craig Harris, Andy Bey, among others. It was also around this time that Allen had been awarded the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship honoring her prolific role in furthering this creative art form. This allowed her to release the compositions “Refractions” and “Flying Towards the Sound,” as well as three short films under the Motéma Music label.
Allen also performed in a theatrical and musical celebration honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for the statue unveiling in Washington, DC.
In a career that spanned more than 35 years, she recorded, performed and collaborated with some of the most important artists of our time. Allen contributed some of the most groundbreaking and forward thinking music of the time. The remarkable pianist leaves behind a wealth of material that will educate future generations of musicians. A mother of three, she credited her family for making it possible for her to maintain such a successful and fruitful career. She was a cutting edge performing artist, and continued to entertain internationally up until her death.
Over the course of a distinguished career spanning nearly 30 albums, multi-GRAMMY®-winning pianist/singer/composer Eliane Elias’ distinctive musical style has emerged as one of the most unique and immediately recognizable sounds in jazz. With over 2.2 million albums sold to date, Elias blends her Brazilian roots and alluring voice with her virtuosic instrumental jazz, classical and compositional skills, while she consistently displays her pianistic mastery and ability to integrate the many artistic roles she takes on.
Born in São Paulo, Brazil, Elias’ musical talents began to show at an early age. She started studying piano at age seven and at age 12 was transcribing solos from the great jazz masters. By the time she was 15, she was teaching piano and improvisation at one of Brazil’s most prestigious schools of music, CLAM. Her performing career began in Brazil at age 17, working with Brazilian singer/songwriter Toquinho and the great poet Vinicius de Moraes, who was also Antonio Carlos Jobim’s co-writer/lyricist. In 1981, she headed for New York and in 1982 landed a spot in the acclaimed group Steps Ahead. Her first solo album release was a collaboration with Randy Brecker in 1984 entitled Amanda. Shortly thereafter her solo career began, spanning 28 albums to date with the release of Love Stories. In her work, Elias has documented dozens of her own compositions, her outstanding piano playing and arranging and beautiful vocal interpretations. She started winning polls in 1988 when she was voted Best New Talent in Jazziz magazine Critic’s Poll.
In review of Elias’ unique gifts as a pianist, singer, composer and arranger as well as melding her immense talents in jazz, pop, classical and Brazilian music, the New York Times has described Elias’ live concert as “a celebration of the vitality of a culture overflowing with life and natural beauty” and Jazziz magazine has called her, “a citizen of the world” and “an artist beyond category.”
Renee Rosnes is one of the premier jazz pianists and composers of her generation. Upon moving to New York City from Vancouver, she quickly established a reputation of high regard, touring and recording with such masters as Joe Henderson, Wayne Shorter, Bobby Hutcherson, J.J. Johnson, James Moody, and legendary bassist Ron Carter. She was a charter member of the all-star ensemble, the SFJAZZ Collective, with whom she toured for six years. As a leader, Ms. Rosnes has released 17 acclaimed recordings. In 2016, Written in the Rocks (Smoke Sessions) was named one of ten Best Jazz Albums of the Year by The Chicago Tribune, one of the Best Albums in all genres of music by The Nation, and was awarded a 2017 Canadian Juno (her fifth Juno award). JazzTimes wrote, “Ms. Rosnes delivers conceptual heft, suspenseful compositions and mesmerizing performances,” and DownBeat praised it as “an exceptional achievement” stating “Rosnes is a virtuoso composer.” The band’s most recent session, Beloved of the Sky (2018) draws inspiration for the title track from Canadian painter Emily Carr, and features master musicians Chris Potter, Steve Nelson, Peter Washington and Lenny White. Renee has produced concerts at Jazz at Lincoln Center, the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, and the 92nd Street Y in New York City. Renee is also the music director for ARTEMIS, a new international all-star band featuring the vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant, clarinetist Anat Cohen, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana, bassist Noriko Ueda and drummer Allison Miller. Rosnes is married to jazz pianist Bill Charlap, and the two often perform in a two-piano setting. The duo was featured on four tracks from the 2015 Grammy award winning album, Tony Bennett & Bill Charlap: The Silver Lining.
An admirer of the seminal Jimmy Smith, Shirley Scott has been one of the organ's most appealing representatives since the late '50s. Scott, a very melodic and accessible player, started out on piano and played trumpet in high school before taking up the Hammond B-3 and enjoying national recognition in the late '50s with her superb Prestige dates with tenor sax great Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis. Especially popular was their 1958 hit "In the Kitchen." Her reputation was cemented during the '60s on several superb, soulful organ/soul-jazz dates where she demonstrated an aggressive, highly rhythmic attack blending intricate bebop harmonies with bluesy melodies and a gospel influence, punctuating everything with great use of the bass pedals. Scott married soul-jazz tenor man Stanley Turrentine, with whom she often recorded in the '60s. The Scott/Turrentine union lasted until the early '70s, and their musical collaborations in the '60s were among the finest in the field. Scott wasn't as visible the following decade, when the popularity of organ combos decreased and labels were more interested in fusion and pop-jazz (though she did record some albums for Chess/Cadet and Strata East). But organists regained their popularity in the late '80s, which found her recording for Muse. Though known primarily for her organ playing, Scott is also a superb pianist -- in the 1990s, she played piano exclusively on some trio recordings for Candid, and embraced the instrument consistently in Philly jazz venues in the early part of the decade. At the end of the '90s, Scott's heart was damaged by the diet drug combination, fen-phen, leading to her declining health. In 2000 she was awarded $8 million in a lawsuit against the manufacturers of the drug. On March 10, 2002 she died of heart failure at Presbyterian Hospital in Philadelphia.
Jessica Williams is a well-known and highly respected pianist and composer who has deep roots in the Jazz Tradition. The two-time Grammy Nominee was born in Baltimore, Maryland, and classically trained at the Peabody Conservatory of Music. In her teens, Jessica moved to Philadelphia and began playing with the great Philly Joe Jones, drummer for the Miles Davis Quintet. Later, she moved to California, where she played in the bands of Eddie Harris, Dexter Gordon, Tony Williams, Stan Getz, Big Nick Nicholaus, Airto and Flora, Charlie Rouse, John Abercrombie, Charlie Haden, Leroy Vinnegar, and others. She has received two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts; a Rockerfeller Grant for composing; the Alice B. Toklas Grant for Women Composers, and the prestigious John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship. Jessica has been an honored guest on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross, and on Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz.
She has released over 40 albums in a career spanning as many years. Her album Joyful Sorrow was among the Top 5 CDs of JazzTimes' Critics Poll in 1999, and her album In the Key of Monk won that honor again in 2000. In late 2004, her album LIVE at Yoshi's Volume One was nominated for a Grammy. In Europe, she scored Jazz Record of the Year for 2 consecutive years in the Jazz Journal International Reader's Poll. She has scored PBS and HBO specials, and has been presented the Keys to the City of both San Mateo, and Sacramento, California.
Born in 1941, Connie Crothers made her Carnegie Hall debut in 1974 as a solo jazz pianist, and her first album PERCEPTION, came out that year on the SteepleChase label. Subsequent reissues of PERCEPTION were named Coda’s 10 Best Records of 1983, Jazz Magazine’s record of the month in 1986, and record of the month in Jazz Hot in 1995. Crothers recorded SWISH, a duo album with drummer Max Roach, in 1982, and toured with him in Europe, Asia and the US. Their collaboration was honored by Harvard University, which named them Visiting Jazz Artists, and inspired a composition by Anthony Braxton. The Crothers/Roach duo also appeared with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
In the ’80s and ’90s, the pianist worked as a soloist and in groups that at various times included Lenny Popkin, alto saxophonist Richard Tabnik, tenor saxophonist Charlie Krachy, bassist Cameron Brown, and drummer Carol Tristano, among others. LOVE ENERGY (New Artists), a quartet CD co-led by Popkin and featuring Carol Tristano and Cameron Brown, was chosen as the #1 record of 1992 by Jack Cooke in Wire; another release from this quartet, IN MOTION, was honored as the best of 1991 by Jazz Magazine.
Recent recordings include four recordings from 2012 as a leader or co-leader including a 4-CD box set SPONTANEOUS SUITES FOR TWO PIANOS with pianist David Arner on the RogueArt label. Grego Applegate Edwards writes: “It is one of the finest improvisational solo-pianistic moments we have experienced in recorded form to date. It will repay your attention with an enthralling sublimity.” A duet recording with alto saxophonist Jemeel Moondoc, TWO, was also issued by the Relative Pitch label in 2012.
Her SESSION AT 475 KENT recording (Mutable Music), a duo session with Michael Bisio, was placed on three top 10 records of the year lists in 2010 in Cadence Magazine and by the Jazz Journalists Association. In the centennial issue of Cadence, Crothers was selected for the list of the most important and influential musicians in the last twenty-five years of the 20th century.
Grammy nominated pianist/vocalist, Judy Carmichael is one of the world’s leading interpreters of stride piano and swing. Count Basie nicknamed her “Stride," acknowledging the command with which she plays this technically and physically demanding jazz piano style. Judy’s vocal debut on her CD “Come and Get It” features her singing debut on everything from Peggy Lee inspired standards, to humorous takes on Fats Waller tunes. Her first all-vocal CD “I Love Being Here With You” followed, which is also her first with someone else playing piano, in this case the great Mike Renzi (presently music director for Tony Bennett) with Harry Allen on sax and Jay Leonhart on bass.
A native of California, Judy Carmichael moved to New York in the early 80’s and has maintained a busy concert schedule throughout the world ever since. She has toured for the United States Information Agency throughout India, Portugal, Brazil and Singapore. In 1992 Ms. Carmichael was the first jazz musician sponsored by the United States Government to tour China. The musician that critics have referred to as “astounding, flawless and captivating” (The New York Times) has played in a variety of venues from Carnegie Hall, to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice (the first concert ever presented by the museum) to programs with Joel Grey, Michael Feinstein, Steve Ross and the Smothers Brothers. In addition, Ms. Carmichael has done comic skits and performed her music on radio and TV and performed private recitals for everyone from Rod Stewart and Robert Redford to President Clinton and Gianni Agnelli.
Judy Carmichael is one of a handful of musicians who approach jazz from a perspective of its entire history. Choosing to study jazz piano from its early roots on, she explores the music deeply, infusing it with a “fresh, dynamic interpretation of her own” (Washington Post ). The National Endowment for the Arts rewarded Carmichael’s knowledge of jazz piano with a major grant to present early jazz greats on film and to discuss the history and development of jazz piano with college students across the country. Judy Carmichael’s Grammy-nominated recording “Two Handed Stride” teamed her with four giants of jazz from the Count Basie Orchestra, Red Callendar, Harold Jones, Freddie Green and Marshall Royal.
She has written two books on stride piano, a celebrated memoir—Swinger! A Jazz Girl’s Adventures From Hollywood to Harlem—and numerous articles on the subject of jazz. She has served on a variety of music panels at the National Endowment for the Arts and is one of the few jazz pianists honored as a Steinway Artist. She has been included in a number of jazz anthologies and at one point, to her utter surprise, turned up in the Simon and Schuster murder mystery Murder Times Two as “the stride pianist Judy Carmichael,” the main suspect’s favorite piano player. Ms. Carmichael is included in Who’s Who in the East, Who’s Who in Finance and Industry in America, Who’s Who in American Woman, American Women in Jazz, Who’s Who in the World, as well as the Encyclopedia of Jazz. Ms. Carmichael has appeared frequently on Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion, and has been featured on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, Entertainment Tonight and multiple features on CBS’ Sunday Morning.
Pat Launer's Center Stage
Support Jazz 88.3
while you shop at
Listen to Jazz 88.3 with our FREE