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The Knights & Aaron Diehl

Sunday June 30, 2024 at 4:00pm

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Sunday June 30, 2024 at 4:00pm

Embark on a celestial journey with The Knights and pianist Aaron Diehl as they bring to life Zodiac Suite by Mary Lou Williams, one of the most influential jazz composers of the 20th century. Last year, The Knights and Diehl released the first fully-fledged professional recording of this incredible arrangement (it went on to become Grammy-nominated in the Best Classical Compendium category) and this concert marks their first live full performance of it. Williams composed each movement of her suite after an astrological sign and as a reflection of her jazz colleagues who shared that sign, like Billie Holiday (Aries), Duke Ellington (Taurus), and Thelonious Monk (Libra). The evening concludes with Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony, paying homage to the composer’s deep love of nature. Whether you lean more classical or more jazz, this performance promises a convergence of genres that will leave you starry-eyed and inspired.

3:00pm / Pre-concert conversation with Aaron Diehl, Eric Jacobsen, and Colin Jacobsen


Mary Lou Williams: Zodiac Suite
Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 6 “Pastoral”

Seating for this Concert / This concert is general admission seating, with premium reserved seating available.

Garden Listening / For those who prefer a more casual concert environment, Garden Listening tickets are $20, and are free for Members and children under 18 years old. Enjoy a picnic, admire a starry sky, or relax with the family. Please Note! This ticket option has no view of the stage or access to the theater. The concert will be broadcast onto Friends Field with audio only. We ask that you bring your own seating for Garden Listening. If you like this seating option, check out all of the summer concerts that have Garden Listening.

“Mr. Diehl is a perfect choice to preside over this landmark recording.”
The Wall Street Journal

    Summer Season Shuttle / Take the FREE shuttle from Metro North’s Katonah train station to and from Caramoor! The shuttle runs before and after every summer afternoon and evening concert. There is no RSVP to get on the shuttle, it will be there when you arrive (in the parking lot side of the station). If it’s not there, it’s just making the loop and should be back within 5–10 minutes. The shuttle will start running 2.5 hours before the concert, and 30 minutes after the concert ends.

Rain or Shine / All events at Caramoor take place rain or shine. However, this performance is under our fully covered Venetian Theater tent.

Have an Afternoon Tea before the concert / Tea is served at 1:00pm in the Music Room of the Rosen House. The service includes a variety of tea sandwiches, scones with créme fraiche and preserves, delicious desserts, and a selection of fragrant teas. Purchase tickets here.

Explore the Rosen House from 2:00pm–3:30pm / Select rooms of the Rosen House are free to explore during our Open House hours. No RSVP is required; feel free to attend and discover more about Caramoor’s history and founders.

About Mary Lou Williams’ Zodiac Suite

Mary Lou Williams (née Mary Elfrieda Scruggs) offered no exaggeration when she told the New Yorker in 1964, “No one can put a style on me. … I change all the time.” Equally at home composing swing tunes for Duke Ellington and teaching the leading lights of the bebop generation, Williams’s career as a keyboardist, composer, and arranger evolved alongside the history of 20th-century jazz itself. 

She was a musically precocious child, born with perfect pitch, and was performing with traveling vaudeville acts by the time she was 15 years old. After early interactions with Fats Waller, Jelly Roll Morton, and Art Tatum, Williams developed a distinctive keyboard style that enabled her to begin performing, albeit peripherally, with Andy Kirk’s Twelve Clouds of Joy, a popular swing-era band primarily based in Kansas City. Her reflections on this period of her life highlight the struggles she faced as a talented young female jazz instrumentalist searching for inroads to the predominantly male world of jazz performance: “I’d wait outside ballrooms in the car, and if things went bad and people weren’t dancing, [the band] would send somebody to get me and I’d go play ‘Froggy Bottom,’ or some other boogie-woogie number, and things would jump.” 

A Masterful Arranger and Composer  
It took almost two years for Williams to be officially inducted into Kirk’s Twelve Clouds of Joy, by which point her arrangements had not only become part of the band’s core repertory but had attracted the attention of Ellington and Benny Goodman, both of whom added her music to their rotations throughout the 1930s and ’40s. She served as the band’s primary pianist from 1931 to 1942, during which time she wrote many of the arrangements and compositions for which she has since become famous. Her recording of “Walkin’ and Swingin’” (1936) with Decca Records is exemplary in many respects, showcasing her ability to orchestrate complex soloistic sections for the saxophones and trumpets as well as her fluidity and creativity as a pianist. 

By 1942 Williams’s relations with the Twelve Clouds of Joy had soured and she moved to New York City, where she headlined for Barney Josephson’s Café Society while continuing to release recordings through Asch Recordings. She also mentored the next generation of jazz musicians, including Thelonius Monk, Sarah Vaughan, and Dizzie Gillespie. Her influence on the young Monk was particularly strong—the last eight bars of “Walkin’ and Swingin’” became the foundation for Monk’s “Rhythm-a-ning” (1957). The physical strain of Williams’s rigorous performing schedule eventually took its toll, and in the mid-1950s she took a three-year hiatus from public appearances. Around this time she converted to Catholicism and founded the Bel Canto Foundation to help jazz musicians struggling with substance abuse. She also shifted her musical focus, eschewing jazz arrangements in favor of composing sacred works that combine biblical texts with jazz, blues, and gospel idioms. Her most famous of these later works is Mass for Peace and Justice (1969), commissioned by the Vatican and later expanded and retitled Mary Lou’s Mass. 

A Closer Look  

Written in 1945 during Williams’s Café Society years, Zodiac Suite was originally scored for a traditional jazz combo (piano, bass, and percussion). With the help of the conductor Milt Orent, she reorchestrated the piece for chamber orchestra later that year and the newly expanded version of the Suite premiered at Town Hall on December 31. 

In her program notes, Williams writes: “I have given the [astrological] Signs the musical interpretation which I feel they warranted … [and] I based each sign on people I know in the creative world,” including Ellington, Gillespie, Monk, John Coltrane, and Billie Holiday. Each movement is a self-contained stylistic universe, part psychological portrait and part musical tribute. “Taurus,” the second movement in the Suite, showcases Williams’s abilities as a manipulator of tone colors and harmonies. The movement begins and ends with a whole- 
tone soundscape, originally performed entirely on the piano and subsequently reorchestrated to make use of the shimmering timbre of the upper strings’ harmonics. The opening theme for the fourth movement, “Cancer,” highlights Williams’s skills as a melodist: Lushly orchestrated for the full ensemble, a melancholy, almost Romantic theme floats above the undulating harmonies in 
the brass and piano. The final movement, “Pisces,” is perhaps the most daring reorchestration of the entire work; originally written for Williams as a solo piano number, the reworked version is expanded to include not only the full instrumental ensemble but also a solo female vocalist whose wistfully chromatic line helps bring the piece to an ethereal conclusion. 

—Sean Colonna 

Sean Colonna is a postdoctoral fellow at Bard College, having earned his PhD in historical musicology at Columbia University.   

The above notes were originally printed by The Philadelphia Orchestra for its presentation of Zodiac Suite. 

Learn More About the Artists

Aaron Diehl, piano

Pianist and composer Aaron Diehl mystifies listeners with his layered artistry. At once temporal and ethereal, his expression transforms the piano into an orchestral vessel in the spirit of beloved predecessors Ahmad Jamal, Erroll Garner, and Jelly Roll Morton. The American Pianist Association’s 2011 Cole Porter fellow has recorded three critically acclaimed albums on Mack Avenue Records and appeared live at historic venues from Jazz at Lincoln Center, the Newport Jazz Festival, and The Village Vanguard to the New York Philharmonic, The Cleveland Orchestra and the Philharmonie de Paris.  

Born in Columbus, Ohio, Diehl traveled to New York in 2003, following his success as a finalist in JALC’s Essentially Ellington competition and a subsequent European tour with Wynton Marsalis. He has explored distinctive repertoire from Monk and Ravel to Gershwin and William Grant Still. Still in particular inspires Diehl’s ongoing curation of Black American composers in his own performance programming. Diehl is the new artistic director of the 92nd Street Y’s Jazz in July festival, beginning in 2024. He has enjoyed artistic associations with Benny Golson, Jimmy Heath, Buster Williams, Branford Marsalis, Wycliffe Gordon, Philip Glass, and Cecile McLorin Salvant. Diehl holds a Bachelor of Music in Jazz Studies from The Juilliard School. A licensed pilot, when he’s not at the studio or on the road, he’s likely in the air. 

To learn more about Aaron Diehl, please visit his website

Eric Jacobsen, Artistic Director/Conductor

Already well-established as one of classical music’s most exciting and innovative young conductors, Eric Jacobsen combines fresh interpretations of the traditional canon with cutting-edge collaborations across musical genres. Hailed by The New York Times as “an interpretive dynamo,” Jacobsen, as both a conductor and a cellist, has built a reputation for engaging audiences with innovative and collaborative programming. He joined the Virginia Symphony Orchestra as Music Director in 2021, being named the 12th music director in the orchestra’s 100+ year history. Current projects include recording projects of Dvorak and Coleridge-Taylor with Gil Shaham and Rhapsody in Blue (on banjo!) with Bela Fleck. Jacobsen is in his ninth season as Music Director of the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra, as he continues to pioneer the orchestra’s programming and community engagement in new and exciting directions. He is also artistic director and co-founder of The Knights, the uniquely adventurous NYC-based chamber orchestra. A frequent guest conductor, he has established continuing relationships with the Colorado Symphony, the Detroit Symphony, the Oregon Bach Festival, and the Dresden Musikfestspiele. Recent engagements also include concerts with the Omaha Symphony, New Jersey Symphony, and Grant Park Festival. Jacobsen is married to Grammy-Winner singer-songwriter Aoife O’Donovan and together they have a daughter. 

Colin Jacobsen, Artistic Director/Concertmaster

Violinist and composer Colin Jacobsen is “one of the most interesting figures on the classical music scene” (Washington Post). Since the early 2000’s, Jacobsen has forged an intriguing path in the cultural landscape of our time, collaborating with an astonishingly wide range of artists across diverse traditions and disciplines while constantly looking for new ways to connect with audiences. For his work as a founding member of two innovative and influential ensembles – the string quartet Brooklyn Rider and orchestra The Knights – Jacobsen was selected from among the nation’s top visual, performing, media, and literary artists to receive a prestigious and substantial United States Artists Fellowship. He is also active as an Avery Fisher Career Grant-winning soloist and has toured with the Silkroad Ensemble since its founding by cellist Yo-Yo Ma in 2000 at Tanglewood. As a composer, he has written pieces for an eclectic mix of artists including pianist Emanuel Ax, singers Anne-Sofie Von Otter and Jamie Barton, banjo player Bela Fleck, mandolinist Avi Avital, clarinetist Kinan Azmeh, choreographers John Heginbotham and Brian Brooks, theater group Compagnia de’ Colombari and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus. Jacobsen is the Artistic Director of Santa Fe Pro Musica, an organization with which he has had a fruitful long-term association as a guest soloist and leader. 

The Knights

The Knights are a collective of adventurous musicians dedicated to transforming the orchestral experience and eliminating barriers between audiences and music. Driven by an open-minded spirit of camaraderie and exploration, they inspire listeners with vibrant programs rooted in the classical tradition and passion for artistic discovery. The Knights evolved from late-night chamber music reading parties with friends at the home of violinist Colin Jacobsen and cellist Eric Jacobsen. The Jacobsen brothers together serve as artistic directors of The Knights, with Eric Jacobsen as conductor. 

Proud to be known as “one of Brooklyn’s sterling cultural products … known far beyond the borough for their relaxed virtuosity and expansive repertory” (The New Yorker), the orchestra has toured extensively across the United States and Europe since their founding in 2007. The Knights are celebrated globally, appearing across the world’s most prestigious stages, including those at Tanglewood Music Center, Ravinia Music Festival, the Kennedy Center, the Vienna Musikverein, and Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie. The orchestra has collaborated with many renowned soloists including Yo-Yo Ma, Dawn Upshaw, Béla Fleck, and Gil Shaham. 

Recent highlights include a whirlwind eleven-stop European tour with violinist Ray Chen as well as collaborations with Grammy-winning countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo and genre-shattering pianist/composer Aaron Diehl, with whom The Knights released a Grammy-nominated album of Mary Lou Williams’ Zodiac Suite in 2023.  

The Knights are proud to share a three-concert series presented by Carnegie Hall during the 2023-24 season. Programs include new works commissioned as part of the Rhapsody project, a multi-year initiative inspired by the 2024 centennial of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. The Knights’ Carnegie Hall concerts in 2023-24 feature Chris Thile, Wu Man, Magos Herrera, and Jeffrey Kahane, among other esteemed collaborators. 

For the latest on their season and a complete list of artistic partners and collaborative projects, please visit their website.

Mary Lou Williams (1910–1981)

Mary Lou Williams was not only the First Lady of jazz; she also had a place at the very top echelon of the jazz pantheon. Ms. Williams wrote over 350 compositions throughout her rich and highly eclectic musical career. She also helped spawn an entire generation of young musicians during the 1940s that would precipitate the birth of one of the world’s most influential musical styles, known as bebop. Her students included musicians as influential and varied as Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, and countless others.

Among her few peers in the more than 50 years that she was active were Duke Ellington, Benny Carter, Count Basie, and Sonny Blount (aka Sun Ra), all of whom successfully remained contemporary through vast stylistic shifts in the history of jazz, from before swing until well after bebop. Indeed Ellington captured her well when stating that, “Mary Lou Williams is perpetually contemporary.”

Williams came to prominence in the late ‘20s and ‘30s as the principal composer-arranger and pianist for Andy Kirk and His Twelve Clouds of Joy, enhancing her reputation by contributing to the big band books of Benny Goodman, Earl Hines, Tommy Dorsey, and, later, Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie. She became an early champion of bebop, adapting its modern harmonies and rhythms to her blues and boogie-rooted piano style. In the ‘50s she had a spiritual crisis that led her to abandon music for about three years; she became a Roman Catholic. Her religious conversion had more than personal results. She began to compose in a sacred vein. This yielded a small masterpiece in 1964 with her hymn in honor of St. Martin de Porres called Black Christ of the Andes. She also composed three complete masses including “Music for Peace” later known as Mary Lou’s Mass.

In 1964, Mary founded Mary Records to release her own self-produced album “Black Christ of the Andes.” This was not the first record company owned and controlled by an African American musical artist. There had been Dizzy Gillespie with Dee Gee and, importantly, Charles Mingus with Debut. Mary Lou Williams also released “Music for Peace” (later “Mary Lou’s Mass”) and “Zoning”, as well as four 45rpm recordings on Mary Records. Activity on the label, however, ceased by 1975. Williams also founded her own publishing company, Cecilia Music Co., for the same purposes and is one of the very few African American, and particularly African American women artists of her time, to have done so.

In 2005, Mary Records was revived by Mary Lou’s former manager and close friend, Rev. Peter O’Brien, to continue the project begun more than forty years ago. Also established around this time was The Mary Lou Williams Collective, an arm of The Mary Lou Williams Foundation, Inc., which was devoted to the recording and performance, of the music of Mary Lou Williams. Led by late pianist and composer, Geri Allen, the collective was involved in presenting fresh approaches to her own works which she herself recorded in her lifetime. It was also intent on recording her compositions which have never before been heard on disc. In 2006, the collective recorded Zodiac Suite Revisited and in 2010, The Complete Sacred Works of Mary Lou Williams was recorded in honor of the centenary of her birth.

Mary Lou Williams returned to the Jazz world fully in 1970 and remained there for the rest of her life. She appeared in concert and at workshops in colleges, at jazz festivals, in clubs, on recordings, on radio, and on television. In her last four years, she maintained a full professional schedule of appearances while functioning as Artist in Residence at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. To this day, she remains one of the most historically significant and influential women in jazz.

In the final year of her life, she formed The Mary Lou Williams Foundation.

Written by Rev. Father Peter O’Brien. First paragraph by George Kanzler, All About Jazz.

Caramoor is proud to be a grantee of ArtsWestchester with funding made possible by Westchester County government with the support of County Executive George Latimer.
All concerts made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature.