Poet Fabu Releases Remember Me at
the Overture Center
Streaming Mary Lou
|Fabu visited the communities and cities where jazz
pianist, composer and arranger Mary Lou Williams
lived and worked to write a book of poetry about
admirer of and played Williams music to create a jazz-poetry show for the Isthmus Jazz Festival in which Reynolds played Williams’ music
and Fabu read poetry inspired by that music. The show was a hit and the duo came together again in 2009 for a music-poetry show on
Williams and her music.
Williams was an inspiration to Fabu. While Williams had a profound influence on jazz for over 50 years, one of the few jazz artists to make
significant contributions to eras such as bebop and free jazz, mentored such jazz greats as Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie and had
her own radio show in New York, she wasn’t even mentioned in the PBS documentary series on jazz. Fabu could relate.
“Right now in Madison, I just don’t understand why it is in 2013 that people are not realizing or hearing African American voices, not
hearing Hmong voices, not hearing Spanish-speaking voices,” Fabu said. “I can go to the Wisconsin Book Festival and I can see national
artists. They do a good job of being multicultural on a national scale, but not on a local scale. And we have had been having poetry
magazines pop up here. But when you read them, there isn’t one African American, not one Native American, not one Hmong, no one. And I’
m saying, ‘Do you not realize that Wisconsin has always included multiple races. But where is their voice? Where is their voice being
heard in Madison, Wisconsin?”
In 2010, Fabu participated in and helped plan the Mary Lou Williams Centennial Celebration in Madison that brought together scholars and
artists from across the country to discuss Williams’ legacy and to perform her music. The culminating event was the unforgettable
performance of Mary Lou’s Mass at Mt. Zion Baptist Church featuring jazz vocalist Carmen Lundy and pianist Geri Allen.
Fabu was determined to not only know of Williams, but to also know who Williams was and to write a book of poetry about her. Fabu
applied for and received funding from the centennial committee to in essence walk in Williams footsteps and do research on Williams at
Rutgers University, which houses the archive of Williams music and writings.
During the next two years, Fabu visited Atlanta, Williams’ birthplace, Pittsburgh where Williams grew up and was buried, Kansas City
where Williams’ career started to take off, New York City and Harlem where Williams frequently performed and lived for several decades,
Duke University in Durham, North Carolina where Williams spent her last days teaching and Rutgers to conduct her research.
The culminating work was Mary Lou Williams: Remember Me, the first authoritative book of poetry written about Williams, an important
literary work on Williams and jazz. On October 11, the birthday of Fabu’s father, Fabu is releasing Remember Me at a free multimedia
performance at the Overture Center’s Promenade Hall.
Wendy Vardaman, Madison’s current poet laureate, has read Remember Me and feels that it is important on a national scale.
“Fabu's book on Mary Lou Williams is creative, accessible, and important,” Vardaman said. “She's essentially doing original research on
Williams' life and music, but bringing her findings to an audience through poetry instead of academic writing. Sometimes these poems are
in the persona of Williams herself at a variety of ages, but sometimes they're from the point of view of other characters, the music, or the
poet. They include moments that are significant for Williams the woman, as well as the great jazz artist. Fabu brings this American genius
to life through historical poetry, shows us Williams' flaws and difficulties as well as successes, and puts Williams in challenging
historical contexts that need to be understood to understand both her and contemporary America.”
The show at Promenade Hall on October 11 will feature actors Trinity Middlebrook and Theola Carter performing as Williams the child and
adult respectively. The show will also feature a performance of Williams’ work by pianist Jane Reynolds and bassist Nick Moran. And of
course there will be Fabu performing dramatic readings of poems from Remember Me.
“People need to hear her music and to know what it sounds like because she wanted her music to be remembered, Fabu said. “I’m
translating her life and her desires and even her sadness and her adventures as well as her music into poetry.”
It should be a performance to be remembered.
By Jonathan Gramling
Part 1 of 2
Fabu, Madison’s former poet laureate and author of three books of poetry, is on a
mission. About six years ago, Fabu read a biography on Mary Lou Williams,
America’s foremost African American female pianist, composer and arranger who
died in 1981. Fabu had been raised on jazz, but had never heard of Williams before.
“My dad was stationed in Paris, France,” Fabu recalled. “I went to kindergarten
and first grade in France. On Saturdays, my dad played jazz records. On Sunday,
my mom played Mahalia Jackson because you didn’t have the opportunity to go to
church there. But jazz was really, really big in France. And there were a lot of
Black entertainers who were escaping racism in the U.S. and went to France. So I
grew up hearing jazz and loving it and seeing his friends and scatting and being
immersed in that world. But I had never heard of Mary Lou Williams.”
Fabu hooked up with noted Madison jazz pianist Jane Reynolds who was an