Kimberly Hannon Teal is an assistant professor of musicology at the University of Arkansas. Her research addresses contemporary jazz, and she is interested in how live performance contexts contribute to musical experiences and meaning. She recently spoke to us about her article, “Mary Lou Williams as an Apology” from Jazz and Culture.
In the spring of 2017 when Tammy Kernodle, author of an excellent biography of Mary Lou Williams, contacted me about the possibility of contributing to a conference panel on the pianist and composer, Williams had most recently been on my mind through her appearance on the blog of another pianist I have written about, Ethan Iverson. Iverson has been one of my favorite jazz players and writers since I first encountered the music of his trio The Bad Plus in the early 2000s. The impressive body of writing he has amassed on his blog, Do the Math, is consistently thought-provoking and rich in musical detail. Indeed, reading Iverson’s writing in part inspired my choice to focus on contemporary jazz as a PhD student, and interviewing him for my dissertation at the Village Vanguard in New York was a highlight of my grad school experience. Some of the most interesting material on Iverson’s blog comes in the form of interviews he conducts with other jazz musicians. In 2017, however, the jazz internet was in an uproar over some of the content of one of Iverson’s interviews, pointing to sexist comments made by pianist Robert Glasper and calling out Iverson for a failure to censor or censure. After my own twenty years as a woman immersed in jazz culture, it wasn’t the nature of Iverson and Glasper’s conversation that surprised me—I had heard plenty of similar comments firsthand and had learned on my first paying gig as a sixteen-year-old trumpet player that navigating gender stereotypes and harassment was more the rule than the exception. I was struck instead by the heated reaction to the Iverson-Glasper interview that led Iverson to respond by posting celebratory writing about Mary Lou Williams. In the years following the explosion of #MeToo in the fall of 2017, the jazz community has seen its own uptick in discussions of sexism and gender equity on many fronts, including those described in the article and the formation of the New York-based Women in Jazz Organization among other activist groups—and Iverson’s collection of fascinating interviews, once void of women, now includes conversations with Cécile McLorin Salvant, Miranda Cuckson, Joanne Brackeen, and Carla Bley.