Mary Lou Williams Gender & Jazz

Educator resources

Join jazz saxophonist and Assistant Professor of Jazz and Applied Saxophone at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, Josiah Boornazian, for this exciting webinar.

Since at least the 1940s, jazz musicians, scholars, journalists, and historians have expressed ambivalent and sometimes contradictory attitudes toward pianist, composer, and educator Mary Lou Williams. Though she undeniably experienced significant hardships throughout her career at least in part due to gender-based discrimination, Williams has also been recognized and celebrated as an important figure in jazz history in a variety of ways since at least the 1970s. Recent scholarly and mainstream discourses dedicated to Williams reveal an apparent widespread tendency within jazz culture to celebrate the pianist as a noteworthy historical figure at least in part due to her gender, and some institutions such as Jazz at Lincoln Center have tried to demonstrate that jazz culture reflects certain currently prevalent progressive values, namely diversity, equity, and inclusion. Such narratives encounter the problem that jazz culture has historically been a male-dominated field that has rarely treated its female practitioners equitably. The contradictions between the apparent facts of jazz history and more recent narratives celebrating the contributions of women such as Williams raise important and potentially uncomfortable historiographical and ethical questions for the jazz community. This article suggests that practical trial-and-error efforts aimed at actively engaging more women performers in jazz culture might be more promising projects for institutions as opposed to investing resources in continuously attempting to revise narratives about the role of women in jazz history, regardless of whether the aim of historical analysis is to point out past sexism or to try to obfuscate it or atone for it.

charlotte lang

Swiss/Dutch saxophonist Charlotte Lang was born in 1996 in Basel and studied the bachelor and master program at the JAZZCAMPUS Basel under the guidance of Domenic Landolf and Daniel Blanc. She is currently studying the Master of Music in Global Jazz at the Berklee College of Music in Boston under the artistic direction of Danilo Pérez. In addition she is part of Terri Lyne Carrington’s Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice.


From 2015 to 2018, Charlotte she was a member of the Swiss National Youth Jazz Orchestra under the direction of Christian Muthspiel. Since 2020, she became a member of the German National Youth Jazz Orchestra (Bundesjazzorchester Deutschland), under the direction of Niels Klein and Ansgar Striepens. She also plays is the Austrian FJO (Frauen Jazz Orchester→Women Jazz Orchestra of Austria).


In 2021, Charlotte founded her own Quintet the „Charlotte Lang Group“, for what she is composing, arranging and booking. In the fall 2023, her first album will be recorded and hopefully released by a renowned label.


Charlotte plays in the “Swiss Jazz Orchestra” and the “Zurich Jazz Orchestra”, the two professional Big Bands of Switzerland.

Charlotte recently got the unique opportunity to write a monthly blog for the Swiss Jazz & Blues Magazine called JAZZTIME, to tell readers about her time at abroad and specifically her time at Berklee. Her graduate program lasts only until the summer of 2023. She hopes to stay in the United States to enlarge her network and build her musical career.