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Composer and Pianist Aaron Diehl Announces New Album Zodiac Suite

A Collaboration with The Knights on Mary Lou Williams' Original Work

Jazz pianist and composer Aaron Diehl announces that his newest work, Zodiac Suite, will be available on September 15th via Mack Avenue Records. A limited edition 180-gram vinyl version of the project will be released in partnership with the American Pianists Association. Zodiac Suite is the fourth album from Diehl on Mack Avenue Records: available on CD, vinyl and digitally, and can be ordered here.

Aaron Diehl Plays Piano

On Zodiac Suite, Diehl pays homage to swing and bebop icon, composer/pianist Mary Lou Williams while unearthing new possibilities and pathways from one of her landmark works. Joined by the orchestral collective The Knights and special guests Evan Christopher (clarinet), Nicole Glover (tenor sax), Brandon Lee (trumpet), and Mikaela Bennett (soprano), Diehl breathes new life into a masterwork that the composer herself was unfortunately never able to fully realize during her lifetime.

Diehl’s ventures into Williams’ expansive work are fully in keeping with his own musical trajectory. The Columbus, Ohio, native began studying classical piano at the age of seven. His passion for jazz was sparked during his attendance at the Interlochen Arts Camp in his pre-teen years, when he was exposed to the staggering, virtuosic swing of Oscar Peterson and Art Tatum. By 17 he was a finalist in Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Essentially Ellington competition, where he came to the attention of Wynton Marsalis, who calls Aaron "The Real Diehl." Marsalis took the young player out on a European tour immediately after his high school graduation. Diehl has also collaborated with many other jazz luminaries including Wycliffe Gordon, Benny Golson, and Hank Jones. Premiered in 1945, Zodiac Suite is best known in the trio incarnation that Williams recorded for the Asch label; within the same year she also performed the piece, each of its movements inspired by an astrological sign, in expanded versions for chamber-jazz ensemble at the Town Hall and for symphony orchestra at Carnegie Hall. The Carnegie Hall event should have been celebrated in the fusion of jazz and classical music, but a lack of preparation and rehearsal time led to a compromised performance, leaving Williams frustrated, and she never performed it again. Reflecting on Williams’ discontent, Diehl shares,

“She struggled continually with people accepting her on her own terms and recognizing her significant contributions. I hope this album will encourage people to investigate more of her music.”

Diehl’s connection to Williams’ body of work is a personal one. In 2003, he met Father Peter O’Brien, the pianist's longtime manager and, after the composer’s death, Executive Director of the Mary Lou Williams Foundation. Their paths crossed initially through a performance of Williams’ music by the Juilliard Jazz Orchestra while Diehl was a student. In 2006, the two encountered each other at St. Joseph of the Holy Family in Harlem, where Diehl was music director and O’Brien was a guest presider. Later, plans were made for Diehl to record one of Williams’ compositions, but it was derailed when the priest passed away. O’Brien’s passion for Williams' work inspired a sense of responsibility in Diehl and a personal mission to continue to raise awareness of the gifted composer, arranger and pianist. “It’s an ongoing challenge, even today, to incorporate the language of Black American folk music into this very Eurocentric identity with all its nuances,” he said. “I can only do my small part to celebrate Mary Lou Williams’ music whenever it’s possible because she was such a brilliant artist. It’s important to keep advocating on behalf of these folks who are no longer with us and to keep their music in people’s ears for generations to come.”

Mary Lou Williams' Zodiac Suite by AARON DIEHL

Zodiac Suite Complete Tracklisting

1. Aries

2. Taurus

3. Gemini

4. Cancer

5. Leo

6. Virgo

7. Libra

8. Scorpio

9. Sagittarius

10. Capricorn

11. Aquarius

12. Pisces

Aaron Diehl on Tour

09/29-30 - Indianapolis, IN - Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra at Schrott Center for the Arts

10/07/23 - Boston, MA - Boston Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Hall - Opening Night Gala

10/14-15 - Newark, NJ - New Jersey Symphony Orchestra at NJPAC

10/19-20 - Jacksonville, FL - Beaches Fine Arts Series at St. Paul’s By-The-Sea

10/22/23 - Naples, FL - Trinity By-The-Cove Episcopal Church

10/28/23 - Chicago, IL - Chicago Humanities Festival with Tyshawn Trio

10/30/23 - New York, NY - Jazz at Lincoln Center with Tyshawn Sorey

01/21/24 - St. Louis, MO - St. Louis Symphony Orchestra

02/05/24 - Orlando, FL - Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra

02/24-25 - Miami Beach, FL - New World Symphony

05/18/24 - Washington DC - Washington Performing Arts & The United States Air Force Band

06/27/24 - Highland Park - Ravinia Festival

06/30/24 - Katonah - Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts


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