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Mary Lou Williams: Zodiac Suite (1945) torrent

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Torrent Description
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Williams, Mary Lou [née Scruggs, Mary Elfrieda; Burley, Mary Lou]
(b Atlanta, 8 May 1910; d Durham, NC, 28 May 1981). American pianist, composer, arranger, and leader. She grew up in Pittsburgh, where she was playing her mother’s reed organ by the time she was four and worked professionally from a very early age; she had taken the surname Winn from a stepfather and the surname Burley from her next stepfather, and performed as Mary Lou Burley. In 1925 she joined the vaudeville show Hits ’n Bits, whose band was soon afterwards led by John Williams (i), whom she married in 1926; she toured extensively with Williams and recorded with his Synco Jazzers in 1927. While in New York (c1926) she worked briefly with Bubber Miley, Tricky Sam Nanton, and Sonny Greer, and she served as intermission pianist at Connie’s Inn. When early in 1929 Andy Kirk took over Terrence Holder’s band, of which John Williams was a member, Mary Lou served the group as deputy pianist and arranger. She participated in all of Kirk’s recordings, and contributed Mess-a-Stomp and Corky Stomp to his first sessions of November 1929. In 1931 she became a regular member of the ensemble (see illustration). The fame of Kirk’s band in the 1930s was due largely to Williams’s distinctive arrangements, compositions, and solo performances on piano; she also provided noteworthy swing-band scores for Benny Goodman, Earl Hines, Tommy Dorsey, and others. John and Mary Lou Williams divorced in 1940. After leaving Kirk in 1942 Mary Lou formed a sextet in Pittsburgh which included Art Blakey and her second husband, Shorty Baker, on trumpet. Baker soon left to join Duke Ellington, and when the sextet failed Williams followed him and served for a short time as staff arranger for Ellington, for whom she scored Blue Skies (revised and popularized by Ellington in 1946 under its original title and also under the title Trumpet No End). Baker and Williams divorced around 1944.

From November 1944 Williams was resident at Café Society, working mainly in Manhattan at its downtown location for nearly four years. In 1946 three movements from her Zodiac Suite were performed at Carnegie Hall by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, a very early instance of the recognition of jazz by a leading symphony orchestra. By now Williams had become an important figure in New York bop, contributing scores to Dizzy Gillespie’s big band and advancing the careers of many younger musicians. After joining Slam Stewart’s trio (with which she appeared in the film Boy! What a Girl) in 1947 and Benny Goodman’s sextet in summer 1948, she worked in California and then returned to New York for an engagement at the Village Vanguard (until November 1949). In the early 1950s she led a group at Bop City. For a few months Oscar Pettiford and Kenny Clarke performed in a trio with Williams; the trio also accompanied prominent bop instrumentalists and the singer Billy Eckstine. From November 1952 through 1954 Williams was based in Europe. She retired from music in 1954 to pursue religious and charitable interests, but resumed her career in 1957. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s she led groups in New York clubs, including the Cookery, composed sacred works for jazz orchestra and voices, and devoted much of her time to teaching. She toured Europe in 1968–9, and in 1970, as a solo pianist and providing her own commentary, she recorded The History of Jazz (FW 2860). Towards the end of her life she received a number of honorary doctorates from American universities and taught on the staffs of the University of Massachusetts (1975–6) and Duke University (from 1977). Not fond of free jazz, she for some reason presented what, not surprisingly, proved to be an adversarial concert with Cecil Taylor in April 1977. She was a guest soloist in Goodman’s 40th Anniversary Concert at Carnegie Hall, gave a concert as an unaccompanied soloist at the Montreux International Jazz Festival in Switzerland in 1978, and appeared on an episode of the television series “Oscar Peterson and Friends” in 1980. She also appeared posthumously in the film documentaries Mary Lou Williams: Music on my Mind (1990) and A Great Day in Harlem (1995).

Williams was long regarded as the only significant female musician in jazz, both as an instrumentalist and as a composer, but her achievement is remarkable by any standards. She was an important swing pianist, with a lightly rocking, legato manner based on subtly varied stride and boogie-woogie bass patterns. Yet by constantly exploring and extending her style she retained the status of a modernist for most of her career. She adapted easily in the 1940s to the new bop idiom, and in the 1960s her playing attained a level of complexity and dissonance that rivaled avant-garde jazz pianism of the time, but without losing an underlying blues feeling. A similar breadth may be seen in her work as a composer and arranger, from her expert swing-band scores for Kirk (Walkin’ and Swingin’, Mary’s Idea) to the large-scale sacred works of the 1960s and 1970s. Her Waltz Boogie of 1946 was one of the earliest attempts to adapt jazz to non-duple meters. Among her sacred works are a cantata, Black Christ of the Andes (1963), and three masses, of which the third, Mary Lou’s Mass (1970), became well known in a version choreographed by Alvin Ailey. A tape recording of her jazz mass, as given in Wesleyan Chapel on 18 November 1973, is held at the World Music Archives at Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut (see Libraries and archives, §2).

Oral history material in CtY, DSI (JOHP) [P. O’Brien], GBLnsa, NjR (JOHP), and NjR.
As unaccompanied soloist: From the Heart (1971, Chi. 103); Solo Recital: Montreux Jazz Festival 1978 (1978, PL 2308218)
As leader: *Little Joe from Chicago (1944, Asch 1002); *Roll ’em (1944, Asch 1003); *Zodiac Suite (1945, Asch 620-21); *Waltz Boogie (1946, Vic. 20-2025); In London (1953, Vogue 22); *Black Christ of the Andes (1963, Saba 15062); Mary Lou Williams Presents (1964, FW 32843); From the Heart (1970, Chi. 103); *Mary Lou’s Mass (1970–72, Mary 102); Free Spirits (1975, Ste. 1043); with C. Taylor: Embraced (1977, PL 2620108); My Mama Pinned a Rose on Me (1977, Pablo 2310819)

Recorded by A. Kirk with Williams as sideman: *Mess-a-Stomp (1929, Bruns. 4694); *Corky Stomp (1929, Bruns. 4893); *Walkin’ and Swingin’ (1936, Decca 809); *Froggy Bottom (1936, Decca 729); *In the Groove (1937, Decca 1261); *Mary’s Idea (1938, Decca 2326)
Recorded by J. Williams (i) with Williams as sideman: Lotta Sax Appeal (1929, Voc. 1453)
Recorded by B. Goodman: *Roll ‘em (1937, Vic. 25627)
Recorded by D. Ellington: Blue Skies, first issued on Duke Ellington and his Orchestra, i (1943, Circle CLP101); Blue Skies [Trumpet No End] (1946, Musi. 484)

Selected Films and Videos
Boy! What a Girl (1947); A Great Day in Harlem (1995)

ConnorBG; McCarthyB; SchullerS
D. Burley: “Miss Mary Lou Williams Swings for You,” New York Amsterdam News (8 Oct 1938), 20
S. Pease: Boogie-woogie Piano Styles (Chicago, 1940, 1943) [incl. transcrs.]
M. Jones: “Mary Lou Williams: a Life Story,” MM, xxx (3 April – 12 June 1954); repr. in Talking Jazz (London, 1987), 17
M. McPartland: “Mary Lou,” DB, xxiv/21 (1957), 12
L. Tomkins: “The Mary Lou Williams Story,” CI, ix/12 (1971), 6; x/1 (1971), 25
R. Baggenaes: “Mary Lou Williams: an Interview,” Coda, xi/10 (1974), 2
N. Hentoff: Jazz Is (New York, 1976/R1991), 83
O. Coyle: “Mary Lou Williams & her Jazz Crusade,” MR, iii/6 (1976), 5
W. Balliett: “Out Here Again,” Improvising: Sixteen Jazz Musicians and their Art (New York, 1977), 59; repr. in BalliettA (1986), 96; BalliettA (1996), 103
C. Battestini and J.-P. Battestini: “Mary Lou Williams raconte sa vie,” BHcF, no.266 (1978), 7
L. Feather, “Piano Giants of Jazz: Mary Lou Williams,” CK, iv/6 (1978), 63
B. Rusch: “Cecil Taylor Interview,” Cadence, iv/1 (1978), 3
D. A. Handy: “First Lady of the Jazz Keyboard,” Black Perspective in Music, viii (1980), 195
E. Townley: “An Interview with Mary Lou,” MR, vii/3 (1980), 4
S. Britt: “The First Lady of Jazz: Mary Lou Williams,” JJI, xxxiv/9 (1981), 10
Obituary, J. P[escheux], BhcF, no. 291 (1981), 30
L. Lyons: The Great Jazz Pianists, Speaking of their Lives and Music (New York, 1983), 67
M. Unterbrink: Jazz Women at the Keyboard (Jefferson, NC, and London, 1983)
L. D. Holmes and J. W. Thomson: Jazz Greats: Getting Better with Age (New York, 1986)
C. J. Yampolsky: The Solo Jazz Piano Music of Three American Composers: Armando “Chick” Corea, William “Billy” Taylor, Mary Lou Williams: a Performance Tape Project (diss., U. of Maryland, 1986)
M. McPartland: “Into the Sun: an Affectionate Sketch of Mary Lou Williams,” All in Good Time (New York, and Oxford, England, 1987), 69
A. Kirk, as told to A. Lee: Twenty Years on Wheels (Wheatley, Oxford, England, and Ann Arbor, MI, 1989)

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