Nina Simone, Mary Lou Williams Celebrated in Healdsburg Jazz Event

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'Convergence' imagines a meeting between jazz greats Mary Lou Williams and Nina Simone (L–R) in a Paris hotel lobby.
'Convergence' imagines a meeting between jazz greats Mary Lou Williams and Nina Simone (L–R) in a Paris hotel lobby. (Courtesy Healdsburg Jazz Festival)

For Women’s History Month, the Healdsburg Jazz Festival presents Convergence, a virtual concert event celebrating iconic musicians Mary Lou Williams and Nina Simone through an imagined depiction of their first meeting.

The concert recounts a fictitious meeting of Williams and Simone in a lobby in Paris. When their paths cross, both artists are about to be honored by the French government with the National Order of Merit awards. Featuring original music in addition to renditions of the pair’s most well-known songs interwoven with dialogue and commentary, the event celebrates the cultural and musical contributions of the two artists.

Both Williams and Simone began playing the piano at around the age of three as children born to large families in the American south. While Williams was Simone’s senior by over two decades and their careers differed greatly, the two played during overlapping time periods. Both produced expansive bodies of work.

Convergence features contemporary pianists Victoria Theodore in the role of Nina Simone and Tammy L. Hall in the role of Mary Lou Williams. Hall is also the Healdsburg Jazz 2021 Artist in Residence, and has been playing piano since the age of four. Her career as a pianist, composer, and educator brought her from her hometown of Dallas, Texas to the Bay Area in 1979.

Her co-star Theodore began her journey as a pianist and singer in her teens as part of the UC Berkeley Young Musicians Program and the Oakland Youth Chorus, and in 2016 joined Beyoncé’s Formation World Tour as a keyboardist. Theodore also contributes original music to Convergence. Hall and Theodore are joined onstage by bassist Ruth Davies and drummer Sylvia Cuenca, as well as Oakland-born Grammy-nominated spoken word artist RyanNicole Austin.

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Directed by Kevin Johnson and filmed at Opus Studios in Oakland, the concert also serves as an educational asset. Healdsburg Jazz has created an original resource guide celebrating the contributions of women to the evolution and history of jazz music as well as a compilation of photos, interviews, and other educational materials in tandem with the Convergence concert event.

'Convergence' airs Wednesday, March 31 at 7pm. Tickets start at $10; a “Dinner Show To Go for Four” package with dinner for four from Spoonbar is available for $200. Details here.