1.8.10

Piano 9


Mary Lou Williams 
Trío con Wendell Marshall & Osie Johnson

Tracks:

1. Mama, Pin Rose On Me
2. Roll'em
3. Sweet Sue
4. Lullaby Of The Leaves
5. Taurus
6. Jericho
7. I Love Him
8. Amy
9. Talk Of De Twon
10. I Love You
11. Easy Blues
12. Fandangle

Mary Lou Williams: Piano
Wendell Marshall:  Bass
Osie Johnson: Drums

recorded in New York 1955
NYC, March 8 + 10, 1955
  
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Mary Lou Williams is perpetually contemporary. Her writing and performing are and have always been just a little ahead throughout her career. . . . her music retains--and maintains--a standard of quality that is timeless. She is like soul on soul.
- Duke Ellington                    
Music is my Mistress, p.169

Mary Lou Williams, Pianist-Composer-Arranger, was one of the few musicians who played through all the eras in the history of jazz. I was blessed with the opportunity to study with her from September 1979 into March 1980 while she was teaching at Duke University, in Durham, North Carolina. Although I came to the conclusion while there that I simply wasn't obsessive enough to want to practice all day every day and play all night every night (as this was what seemed called for if one was serious about living the music), the opportunity to learn from and briefly get to know one of this century's most extraordinary musicians was among the greatest gifts I will receive from life. Never well-known to the general public, she was a "musician's musician". She worked with and was known and loved by a large majority of the people who created the unique American art form called Jazz, or as Duke more accurately put it in his resplendent autobiography: 
    

“You probably heard of the word `jazz.' It's all right if that is the way you understand or prefer it. We stopped using the word in 1943, and we much prefer to call it the American Idiom, or the Music of Freedom of Expression.”
Music is My Mistress, p.309


excerpt from interview with Mary Lou Williams
between sets at Keystone Korner, S.F., 1978


I play all styles, everybody should. It's all great. And what has happened during this era, some of the avant-garde guys think they're so far out until they're greater than the other cats but they're not. All the music is great. It's music that should be on earth, should be played all the time because it has a healing in it. And it's a conversation, if you can get to it while you're playing. It's really needed. There's a need for people to hear because the commercial music that's being played on radio and TV, it makes people frantic and puts people up in the air so far and you need something to quell them, you know what I mean. Because I see great havoc on earth if jazz doesn't come back on radio and TV soon because the other music is making people too nervous.
Say for instance with the electronic, my ear has gone out--and I thought because I was older--and the doctor tells me that's happening to young kids. It seems to be an evil to me: to play so much of one kind of music and not even the classics. You see the priests of the church they know it's religious music. It came out of the spirituals. Even Cardinal Cook opened up and let me do something that was like a miracle: to do a jazz mass in Saint Patrick's Church in New York--on Fifth Avenue? Where millionaires and things. They told me the people came to protest and said they loved it so they went away ravin'. They asked me when was I going to do another one? And that's a miracle. See because they know the music is valuable and you should be playing.
Because there's a lot of money tied up in rock. Rock is good some of it. But the slop that you hear on TV and radio is terrible. It destroys a natural talent. Little kid two or three years old that would play the new era of music, it destroys him. He listens to what's being played and it's nothing. And writing music: I may hear something now while I'm talking to you. The music that I'm representing is completely different than what you would learn in the school. Now if I went to school and studied, I'd be able to write for NBC and the movies. And I don't like that, I create too much. See it blocks you.
In writing compositions or playin' jazz, you gotta be free enough to play it as it comes in the mind. As fast as lightning, it comes from the mind, the heart--fingertips, faster than lightning. And if the mind stops, you just do patterns until you can get back. But in writing the same thing happens. Like I was talking to someone and I finished an arrangement all the time I was talking to him and yet I could carry on a conversation. It's according to how open you are for the feeling that comes forth, see? And it's wonderful that way. You never get stuck. Often I'm driving the car and hear a horn go Toot! and start a tune. I was on my way downtown on the subway and just from the noise of the wheels I arranged something.
You never know when the inspiration is gonna come. I'm all music. They used to call me a dummy in the band. You see I was not allowed to talk until I was about twenty-five or thirty years old--the band I was with they'd tell me, `Shut-up, think music, stop talking.' And that's what they did more or less. And there was a mental telepathy kind of a thing going forth when they were with the band and when you played with 'em. A guy would play something and you could answer him immediately then. And the minds were kept flowing like that. Fast minds and what not.
Much different than what's happening now. Each individual is for himself. He saves himself and he could care less and I don't understand it because if I don't accompany you well then I won't even feel like playing a solo myself because you will not be able to play anything if I don't accompany you right, see? And it's just an individual and technical world now, electronic.
I have a lot of young kids, they come to me Saturdays if I'm working in New York. I take them back to Fats Waller and bring them up to date. They've got to know about the older music in order to play avant-garde. See the guys that they're patterned after like Coltrane and all that, they would never be a Coltrane because they don't know anything about the Basie. It's just like you going to school starting in kindergarten, first, second grade. So what I do, I take them back to the older musicians. I trained Hilton Ruiz who was with Rahsaan. I took him back to Fats Waller. I had him swinging the left hand. He can play anything. And that is the only advice I could give them.

 






Pianist, composer, and arranger Mary Lou Williams (1910-1981) is often referred to as the First Lady of Jazz in the annals of American music history. Williams was a highly respected musician in her day whose repertoire spanned several seminal jazz styles, from boogie-woogie to bebop, and she was an integral member of what became known as the Kansas City big-band sound during the 1930s. In her later years she wrote jazz-inflected liturgical works for Roman Catholic masses and taught at Duke University. Williams, remarked Denver Post writer Glenn Giffin, "was the first, for a long time the only, and many claim the most significant, woman in jazz between the era of the '20s and her death in 1981."
  

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