The spirit of the woman and her music played on my emotions and tugged at my heartstrings. A testimony to the power of music and the gift of a passion for it early in life are woven into this novel about a girl born and brought up to jazz.
As a toddler, Mary sat on her mama’s lap while she played the church organ, and that’s where she got her start at the ripe age of three. With more than her fair share of setbacks, she keeps moving forward, transforming each loss into the fuel for her rhythm and blues.
I didn’t know a great deal about the life of the real Mary Lou Williams, but I could easily relate and empathize with the mostly innocent and childish, yet deeply sensitive viewpoint of the main character as she may have been before coming of age.
The pain of prejudice, damage of alcohol abuse, and the heavy weight of mourning the loss of loved ones were palpable. I could almost feel what the music would sound like that she’d “conjure up” at different times under the influence of powerful emotions that she knew no other way to express or process.
The notion of an artist being compelled to express herself through her craft comes out loud and clear. All of the drama and heartache at home and school are jazz juice for her fast fingers and singing soul.
Once I finished reading Jazz Girl, I began watching videos on YouTube of Mary Lou Williams playing the piano, talking about how she got started at a very young age the same way described in the novel.
I’m fascinated to learn more about Mary Lou Williams and hear about what inspired the author to write this novel. Fortunately, I’m good friends with the author’s best friend, so that shouldn’t be too hard to arrange.
I’m grateful to my Cursillo friend and co-worker Becky for loaning me her signed copy of the book last week. What perfect timing! I only wish I had known that Sarah Bruce Kelly was coming to town to speak, so I could have gone to that as well. (She says she'll let me know the next time she's in our area giving a talk.)
To me, good historical fiction reads like an intriguing story while creating a curiosity in the reader to do more research to figure out the fact from the fiction. Jazz Girl has certainly made me eager to learn more about this music legend’s legacy and her biography.
Click here to read Mary Lou Williams obituary in the New York Times.