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Sound Gallery Founder Honored with Award

MJ Williams Vocalist

MJ Williams honored with the Governors Arts Award

M.J. Williams is one of five distinguished Montana artists who will be honored in December, 2016, as a recipient of the Governor’s Arts Award. The other honorees are  Jack Gladstone, Neal and Karen Lewing, Rick Newby and Patrick Zentz.

The awards ceremony will be held on December 2nd, 2016 at 3:00 pm at the Montana State Capitol.I am so proud to say that I know and work with Willie! I’ll be there!

She’s Awesome

Willie or M.J. is the founder of Sound Gallery, a series of innovative performances by musicians and poets held in the 1+1=1 Gallery since the winter of 2014. Willie approached us when we first opened in our current gallery location, about doing concerts in the space. The acoustics are great. The size is perfect (we are limited in our seating so the concerts are always intimate.) Tim and I are jazz fans, and have always enjoyed music that pushes the boundaries of sound performances. I’ve known Willie for at least 30 years so we jumped at the chance to collaborate with her. It’s been awesome ever since.

Sound Gallery Mission

Sound Gallery is kinda like a loft jazz scene; a place for both the listeners and the musicians to learn and evolve.  1+1=1 Gallery provides a beautiful, peaceful space for musicians to perform for focused audiences — to perform their own original music, new music, experimental music and spoken-word-sound-collaborations. Future performances may involve theater and dance artists as well as other authors and visual art. MJ talks about how half of music is listening. And that we don’t often get that circle of listening and reflection. Sound Gallery is about making that happen for the arts community in Helena and Montana.

MJ Williams, from an article by Marga Lincoln in the Independent Record:

“Jazz musicians love to listen to each other. Usually they’re playing over chatter and the clink of glasses or the clatter of plates and silverware. The idea (of Sound Gallery) revolves around really listening. Musicians have to listen to themselves and they get a lot of information by listening to other musicians. And the audience is a huge part of that. And how we all work — most of the time we work in bars and restaurants — so we can’t complete that circle of listening and playing. It doesn’t work so well in that environment. In this kind of venue we get to really dig into what we may have been working on a long time but haven’t had an opportunity to play. Some of it will be kind of challenging material because it’s not known. Some will be challenging because it’s not your party comfort zone. In some ways it’s a deeper exploration.”

For a work to come alive, it needs an audience listening and responding. This is true whether the work is a piece of theater, a painting or sculpture, or a music performance. Artists need and want people to listen and look.


From M.J.’s profile on the Montana Arts Council website:

  • “M.J. is a Montana legend,” writes pianist, composer and MSU music professor Eric Funk. “Her artistry is nothing short of stunning. A true improviser, eloquent, versatile, and always new and honest, she’s a musician any true professional wants to perform or record with.”
  • Jazz vocalist, composer and trombonist M.J. Williams was lauded as “a discerning, improvising artist of the highest order” by bass-player Kelly Roberti, who poignantly nominated her before he died last spring (he was a Governor’s Arts Awards recipient in 2010). Roberti performed with Williams (affectionately known as “Willie”) for 38 years and witnessed, as well as learned from, “a commitment that is both unique and inspiring. Her quest is one of true originality.”

Congratulate MJ on her award! Come on down to the next Sound Gallery Concert on September 25th — this weekend — where Bob Nell will perform original jazz piano solos. We are damn lucky in Helena Montana to have this caliber of artists/musicians. Please come out and support them with your listening presence.

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