Mary Lou Williams (1910-1981) [Composer Of The Week]

Episodes

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01The Little Piano Girl Of East Liberty20191118

Donald Macleod charts the extraordinary life of composer and jazz pianist Mary Lou Williams beginning with her impoverished childhood growing up in Georgia and Pennsylvania.

Mary Lou Williams’ music stands out from the crowd because, as Duke Ellington recognised, “her writing and performing have always been just a little ahead throughout her career.” A prolific composer and arranger, she was also a gifted pianist. A master of blues, boogie woogie, stride, swing and be-bop, Williams was quick to absorb the prevailing musical currents in her own music, naturally able to exploit her ability to play anything she heard around her. It is this restless musical curiosity that defines her own compositions, and led her to become friends with and mentor many younger musicians, among them Thelonius Monk, Bud Powell, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.

Born around 1910 in Atlanta, Georgia, Williams grew up in Pittsburgh, where she had to overcome racial segregation, gender discrimination and the disadvantages of an impoverished family to realise her musical ambitions. Learning to play entirely by ear, she was performing locally by age six. Barely into her teens she was touring professionally as a pianist, living proof that - contrary to the prevailing views - women really could play jazz as well as men. But her artistic success came at some personal cost, with instances of domestic abuse, two divorces, a gambling addiction, and the ongoing strain of trying to support her extended family, all taking its toll over the years. After taking a spiritual path, she spent some years trying to rehabilitate addicted musicians, and developed an interest in writing sacred jazz pieces, and after a long career of some sixty years she took on the mantle of educating future generations about the cultural roots of jazz.

Over the course of the week Donald Macleod follows Mary Lou Williams as her life and musical pathways intertwine, from the early years playing Kansas City swing, to embracing be-bop, religion and modern jazz.

When she was around three years old, sitting on her mother's lap as she played the harmonium, suddenly Mary Lou Williams reached up and replicated exactly what she'd just heard her mother do. It was a defining moment. Williams' future had just been decided, and in her own words, "I never left the piano after that."

The History of Jazz (excerpt)
Mary Lou Williams, speech and piano

ML Williams, L. Gales: Rosa Mae
Mary Lou Williams, piano
Bob Cranshaw bass
Mickey Roker, drums

My mama pinned a rose on me
Mary-Lou Williams, vocals/piano

Willis
Mary Lou Williams, piano
Carline Ray, bass
David Parker, drums
Abdul Rahman, congas

Nite Life Variations
Mary Lou Williams, piano

Close to Five
Andy Kirk and his Twelve Clouds of Joy

Lonely Moments
Cloudy
Marian McPartland, piano

Kool Bongo
Monk, arr. Mary Lou Williams: Around Midnight
Mary Lou Williams Quartet
Mary Lou Williams, piano
Ken Napper, bass
Allan Ganley, drums
Tony Scott, bongos

Donald Macleod charts the extraordinary life of jazz musician Mary Lou Williams.

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.

02The Lady Who Swings The Band20191119

Donald Macleod charts the extraordinary life of composer and jazz pianist Mary Lou Williams. Today he explores her years of graft on tour in vaudeville and with Andy Kirk's 12 Clouds of Joy.

Mary Lou Williams’ music stands out from the crowd because, as Duke Ellington recognised, “her writing and performing have always been just a little ahead throughout her career.” A prolific composer and arranger, she was also a gifted pianist. A master of blues, boogie woogie, stride, swing and be-bop, Williams was quick to absorb the prevailing musical currents in her own music, naturally able to exploit her ability to play anything she heard around her. It is this restless musical curiosity that defines her own compositions, and led her to become friends with and mentor many younger musicians, among them Thelonius Monk, Bud Powell, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.

Born around 1910 in Atlanta, Georgia, Williams grew up in Pittsburgh, where she had to overcome racial segregation, gender discrimination and the disadvantages of an impoverished family to realise her musical ambitions. Learning to play entirely by ear, she was performing locally by age six. Barely into her teens she was touring professionally as a pianist, living proof that - contrary to the prevailing views - women really could play jazz as well as men. But her artistic success came at some personal cost, with instances of domestic abuse, two divorces, a gambling addiction, and the ongoing strain of trying to support her extended family, all taking its toll over the years. After taking a spiritual path, she spent some years trying to rehabilitate addicted musicians, and developed an interest in writing sacred jazz pieces, and after a long career of some sixty years she took on the mantle of educating future generations about the cultural roots of jazz.

Over the course of the week Donald Macleod follows Mary Lou Williams as her life and musical pathways intertwine, from the early years playing Kansas City swing, to embracing be-bop, religion and modern jazz.

A bit of a dare-devil and a gypsy, life on the road appealed to Mary Lou Williams. She couldn't wait to leave her home town of Pittsburgh, first joining Buzzin’ Harris and His Hits ‘n Bits on tour, but it wasn't too long before she was attracting attention from some bigger fish.

Walkin’ and Swingin’
Andy Kirk & His 12 Clouds of Joy

A Kirk, ML Williams: Corky Stomp
ML Williams: Froggy Bottom
Andy Kirk & His 12 Clouds of Joy

Lotta Sax Appeal
Andy Kirk and his 12 Clouds of Joy

Mess-A-Stomp
Andy Kirk & His 12 Clouds of Joy
The Rocks
Mary Lou Williams, piano
Bearcat Shuffle
Andy Kirk & His 12 Clouds of Joy

Little Joe from Chicago
Mary Lou Williams, piano

Sammy Cahn & Saul Chaplin, arr. by ML Williams: The Lady Who Swings the Band
Harry Mills, vocal
Andy Kirk & His 12 Clouds of Joy

Herman Walder/ML Williams: A Mellow Bit of Rhythm
Andy Kirk & His 12 Clouds of Joy
Mary’s Idea
Andy Kirk & His 12 Clouds of Joy

Twinklin’
Andy Kirk and his Twelve Clouds of Joy
Jelly Roll Morton, arr. ML Williams: The Pearls
Mary Lou Williams, piano
What’s Your Story, Morning Glory
Andy Kirk and his Twelve Clouds of Joy
Pha Terrell, vocal,
Scratchin’ in the Gravel
Andy Kirk and his Twelve Clouds of Joy

Donald Macleod charts Mary Lou Williams's years with Andy Kirk and his 12 Clouds of Joy.

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.

03Strikin' Out20191120

Donald Macleod charts the extraordinary life of composer and jazz pianist Mary Lou Williams. Today a dramatic break with Andy Kirk and the 12 Clouds of Joy gives Williams the space to work on ambitious projects in her own name.

Mary Lou Williams’ music stands out from the crowd because, as Duke Ellington recognised, “her writing and performing have always been just a little ahead throughout her career.” A prolific composer and arranger, she was also a gifted pianist. A master of blues, boogie woogie, stride, swing and be-bop, Williams was quick to absorb the prevailing musical currents in her own music, naturally able to exploit her ability to play anything she heard around her. It is this restless musical curiosity that defines her own compositions, and led her to become friends with and mentor many younger musicians, among them Thelonius Monk, Bud Powell, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.

Born around 1910 in Atlanta, Georgia, Williams grew up in Pittsburgh, where she had to overcome racial segregation, gender discrimination and the disadvantages of an impoverished family to realise her musical ambitions. Learning to play entirely by ear, she was performing locally by age six. Barely into her teens she was touring professionally as a pianist, living proof that - contrary to the prevailing views - women really could play jazz as well as men. But her artistic success came at some personal cost, with instances of domestic abuse, two divorces, a gambling addiction, and the ongoing strain of trying to support her extended family, all taking its toll over the years. After taking a spiritual path, she spent some years trying to rehabilitate addicted musicians, and developed an interest in writing sacred jazz pieces, and after a long career of some sixty years she took on the mantle of educating future generations about the cultural roots of jazz.

Over the course of the week Donald Macleod follows Mary Lou Williams as her life and musical pathways intertwine, from the early years playing Kansas City swing, to embracing be-bop, religion and modern jazz..

A move to New York in the 1940s saw Mary Lou Williams putting together her own groups and accepting her own commissions to write and record, courted by some of the greatest band leaders of the day. Pushing boundaries, the Zodiac Suite was conceptually inspired by classical music, and she was also mingling and dabbling with the ideas of the be-bop generation in her own music.

Roll ‘Em
Benny Goodman & his Orchestra

Gjon Mili Jam Session
Mary Lou Williams and her Six
Mary Lou Williams Blues
Six Men and a Girl

Boogie misterioso
Mary Lou Williams’ Girl Stars

Zodiac Suite (excerpt)
Mary Lou Williams, piano

In the land of Oo-bla-dee
Mary Lou Williams Orchestra
In the land of Oo-bla-dee
Marian McPartland, piano
Bill Douglass, bass
Omar Clay, drums

A Fungus A Mungus
Mary Lou Williams, piano
Nicole
Mary Lou Williams, piano
Percy Heath, bass
Tim Kennedy, drums

Irving Berlin, arr. by ML Williams: Blue Skies (Trumpets no end)
Duke Ellington & His Orchestra

Donald Macleod charts Mary Lou Williams's emergence as an artist under her own name.

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.

04Music For The Soul20191121

Donald Macleod's survey of Mary Lou Williams sees her establish a charitable refuge for jazz musicians who were struggling with addictions and turning her mind to a new direction, writing religiously inspired jazz.

Mary Lou Williams’ music stands out from the crowd because, as Duke Ellington recognised, “her writing and performing have always been just a little ahead throughout her career.” A prolific composer and arranger, she was also a gifted pianist. A master of blues, boogie woogie, stride, swing and be-bop, Williams was quick to absorb the prevailing musical currents in her own music, naturally able to exploit her ability to play anything she heard around her. It is this restless musical curiosity that defines her own compositions, and led her to become friends with and mentor many younger musicians, among them Thelonius Monk, Bud Powell, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.

Born around 1910 in Atlanta, Georgia, Williams grew up in Pittsburgh, where she had to overcome racial segregation, gender discrimination and the disadvantages of an impoverished family to realise her musical ambitions. Learning to play entirely by ear, she was performing locally by age six. Barely into her teens she was touring professionally as a pianist, living proof that - contrary to the prevailing views - women really could play jazz as well as men. But her artistic success came at some personal cost, with instances of domestic abuse, two divorces, a gambling addiction, and the ongoing strain of trying to support her extended family, all taking its toll over the years. After taking a spiritual path, she spent some years trying to rehabilitate addicted musicians, and developed an interest in writing sacred jazz pieces, and after a long career of some sixty years she took on the mantle of educating future generations about the cultural roots of jazz.

Over the course of the week Donald Macleod follows Mary Lou Williams as her life and musical pathways intertwine, from the early years playing Kansas City swing, to embracing be-bop, religion and modern jazz.

The 1950s were difficult years for Mary Lou Williams. Work was hard to come by in New York so she looked to Europe for bookings. During an extended sojourn in Paris she experienced a major spiritual crisis which was to have lasting consequences.

Tisherome
Mary Lou Williams Trio
Mary Lou Williams piano;
Billy Taylor, bass
Willie Guerra, bongos

New Musical Express
Mary Lou Williams Quartet
Don Byas, tenor saxophone
Mary Lou Williams, piano
Alvin Banks, bass
Gerard “Dave” Pochonet, Drums

ML Williams, AS Woods: Hymn to St. Martin de Porres
The Ray Charles Singers
Howard Roberts, conductor
Mary Lou Williams, piano

Gloria (Mary Lou's Mass excerpt)
Mary Lou Williams, piano
Buster Williams, bass
Mickey Roker, drums

ML Williams, Ada Moore: The Devil
The Ray Charles Singers
Howard Roberts, conductor
Mary Lou Williams, piano

O.W.
Mary Lou Williams, piano
Chris White, bass
Sonny Henry, guitar
David Parker, drums
Abdul Rahman, congas
Roger Glenn, flute
James Bailey, Milton Grayson, Carl Hall, vocals

Mary Lou’s Mass (excerpts)
ML Williams, Sonny Henry: Lazarus
Mary Lou Williams, piano
Carline Ray, bass & vocals
Leon Atkinson, guitar
Credo
Mary Lou Williams piano
Carline Ray bass & vocal
Leon Atkinson, guitar
Al Harewood drums
David Amram, French horn
Eileen Gilbert, Randy Peyton, Christine Spencer, vocals
Credo (Instrumental)
ML Williams piano
Carline Ray bass
Sonny Henry guitar
David Parker drums & tambourine
Abdul Rahman, congas

Zodiac Suite (excerpt) - Virgo, Libra, Aries
Mary Lou Williams, piano
Dizzy Gillespie and his band

Donald Macleod's survey of Mary Lou Williams finds her writing religiously inspired jazz.

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.

05The Priest And The Jazz Musician20191122

Donald Macleod survey of Mary Lou Williams finds her still breaking boundaries musically and embracing a role teaching jazz history at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

Mary Lou Williams’ music stands out from the crowd because, as Duke Ellington recognised, “her writing and performing have always been just a little ahead throughout her career.” A prolific composer and arranger, she was also a gifted pianist. A master of blues, boogie woogie, stride, swing and be-bop, Williams was quick to absorb the prevailing musical currents in her own music, naturally able to exploit her ability to play anything she heard around her. It is this restless musical curiosity that defines her own compositions, and led her to become friends with and mentor many younger musicians, among them Thelonius Monk, Bud Powell, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.

Born around 1910 in Atlanta, Georgia, Williams grew up in Pittsburgh, where she had to overcome racial segregation, gender discrimination and the disadvantages of an impoverished family to realise her musical ambitions. Learning to play entirely by ear, she was performing locally by age six. Barely into her teens she was touring professionally as a pianist, living proof that - contrary to the prevailing views - women really could play jazz as well as men. But her artistic success came at some personal cost, with instances of domestic abuse, two divorces, a gambling addiction, and the ongoing strain of trying to support her extended family, all taking its toll over the years. After taking a spiritual path, she spent some years trying to rehabilitate addicted musicians, and developed an interest in writing sacred jazz pieces, and after a long career of some sixty years she took on the mantle of educating future generations about the cultural roots of jazz.

Over the course of the week Donald Macleod follows Mary Lou Williams as her life and musical pathways intertwine, from the early years playing Kansas City swing, to embracing be-bop, religion and modern jazz.

After some fifty years of ups and downs and sheer hard graft, from 1966 Mary Lou Williams was managed by a Jesuit priest, Father O'Brien. A decade on she was finally financially secure, able to devote herself to her own varied projects, performing, writing and producing critically acclaimed recordings, and realising a long cherished ambition, a history of Jazz.

ML Williams, L. Gales: Syl-o-gism
Mary Lou Williams, piano
Zita Carno, piano
Bob Cranshaw, bass
Mickey Roker, drums

Why?
The Mary Lou Williams Quartet
Mary Lou Williams, piano
Alvin Banks, bass
Gerard “Dave” Pochonet, Drums
Don Byas, tenor saxophone
Chunka Lunka
Mary Lou Williams, piano
Percy Heath, bass
Tim Kennedy, drums

Ode to Saint Cecilie
Mary Lou Williams, piano
Buster Williams, bass
Mickey Roker, drums

Medi II
Bob Cranshaw, bass
Mickey Roker, drums

Blues for Timme
Mary Lou Williams, piano
Buster Williams, bass
Mickey Roker, drums
Ghost of Love
Mary Lou Williams, piano

Praise the Lord
Mary Lou Williams, piano
Milton Suggs bass violin
Tony Waters drums

What’s your story Morning Glory
Mary Lou Williams, piano

Roll’Em
Benny Goodman, Clarinet
Victor Paz, Warren Vache, Jack Shelton, trumpets
Wayne Andre, George Masso, John Messner, trombones
George Young, Mel Rodnon, alto saxophones
Buddy Tate, Frank Wess, tenor saxophones
Sol Schlinger, baritone sax
MLW piano and arranger
Cal Collins, Wayne Wright, guitar
Michael Moore, bass
Connnie Kay drums

Donald Macleod's survey of Mary Lou Williams sees her mature works breaking new boundaries

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.