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Seattle's Ann Reynolds honors female jazz composers

A white woman in a purple blouse plays a piano.
Jim Levitt
Jim Levitt
Ann Reynolds with the Seattle Women's Jazz Orchestra

In her recent Earshot Jazz concert and on her new album "Inspired By Women Composers," pianist Ann Reynolds captures the essence of four influential musicians: Mary Lou Williams, Carla Bley, Geri Allen and Christine Jensen.

Ann Reynolds' interest in the piano started when she was about 6 years old. She didn't get much in the way of classical training until she was in college at Mount Holyoke, where the piano was a welcome break from her studies as a biology major.

Reynolds wanted to learn jazz, but didn't have time for it until she landed in Seattle. From teachers like Randy Halberstadt and the legendary jazz instructor Jerome Gray, Reynolds says she "got a whole different view of what it meant to play jazz and play from your soul."

"You're expressing yourself. You need to understand who you are and put that out there. So I've been working on that ever since, and I'll be working on that all my life."

Then she went to Cuba.

"Suddenly I was in this world of music that I didn't know anything about, but immediately loved," Reynolds recalls. "The technical aspects of it meant that I had to up my game to play better, in order to play that music. The surprising thing was that, for me, the 'gringa,' Cuban music really touched my soul."

Her Cuban jazz band Clave Gringa has recorded two albums that are listener favorites on KNKX's Jazz Caliente program.

"But the jazz never left me, really," Reynolds explains. "That's why it was such a great thing to be able to do this project and to be able to say, 'Here's some music that's been important to me and is still important.'"

Pandemic time was a good time to try a new project. Reynolds chose female composers whose music intrigued and challenged her. She studied not only their compositions, but also their lives and philosophies.

Reynolds then applied what she'd learned and felt to her own original compositions, inspired by those artists.

Such an intimate project requires the assistance of sensitive, intuitive bandmates, and that's exactly what Reynolds got when she chose bassist Kelsey Mines and drummer Chris Icasiano. This trio seems to effortlessly breathe together and to share one heartbeat.

The "Inspired by Women Composers" concert for the Earshot Jazz Festival was enhanced by the presentation of some background information and a piece of each composer's music. Reynolds thinks that this format has some educational value, and she'd like to perform it again at libraries, schools or museums.

Thanks to Earshot Jazz for making the concert video available.

The album is available here.

Ann Reynolds Celebrating Women Composers

Originally from Detroit, Robin Lloyd has been presenting jazz, blues and Latin jazz on public radio for nearly 40 years. She's a member of the Jazz Education Network and the Jazz Journalists Association.