Mary Lou Williams’s career on record can roughly be broken down into three periods which correspond to her stylistic evolutions over decades and how she continued to enlarge the scope of musical forms she undertook over her lengthy career.
The first period, between 1927 and 1942, covers Williams’s time on the road with African American vaudeville troupes through the Swing Era in the late 1930s with Andy Kirk and the Clouds of Joy, which landed Williams at the edge of her embrace of modern jazz (or bebop) in 1942. Remnants of how she sounded with Seymour and Jeanette James’s Midnite Strutters (later Jeanette James’s Synco Jazzers following Seymour’s death) and later with John Williams’s Synco Jazzers are captured on recordings, when she went by the name of Mary Lou Burley. They are rudimentary, compared to when she and her husband John Williams threw in their lot with Kirk. The Chronological series on Classics Records covering the Clouds of Joy and Williams’s careers, produced in France in the 1990s and early 2000s, provides listeners with Williams’s complete recorded works from this period.
THE CHRONOLOGICAL MARY LOU WILLIAMS, 1927-1940
Classics 630, 1992
Twenty-four tracks featuring Jeannette James’s Synco Jazzers, John Williams Synco Jazzers, Six Men and a Girl, Mary Lou Williams and Her Kansas City Seven, and piano solos.
Mary Lou Williams Trio: Accompanied by Booker Collins (b), Ben Thigpen (d)
Mary Lou Williams Quartet: Ted Robinson added; Williams doubles on celeste
THE CHRONOLOGICAL ANDY KIRK AND HIS TWELVE CLOUDS OF JOY, 1929-1931
Classics 655, 1992
Andy Kirk and His Twelve Clouds of Joy: Gene Prince, Harry Lawson, Edgar Battle (tp), Allen Durham (tb), John Harrington (cl, as,), John Williams (as, bar), Lawrence Freeman (ts), Williams (p, arr), William Dirvin (bj, g), Claude Williams (vln), Andy Kirk (bassax, tu, dir) Edward McNeil (d) Harry Lawson (vcl)
John Williams and His Memphis Stompers: Same personnel
Blanche Calloway and Her Joy Boys: Harry Lawson, Edgar Battle (tp), Clarence Smith (tp, vcl), Floyd Brady (tb), John Harrington (cl, as), John Williams (as), Lawrence Freeman (ts), Williams (p), William Dirvin (bj), Andy Kirk (tu), Ben Thigpen (d), Billy Massey, Blanche Calloway (vcl)
THE CHRONOLOGICAL ANDY KIRK AND HIS TWELVE CLOUDS OF JOY, 1936-1937
Classics 573, 1991
Personnel: Harry Lawson, Paul King (tp); Earl Thompson (tp, arr), Ted Donnelly, Henry Wells (tb), John Harrington (cl, as, bar), John Williams (as, bar), Dick Wilson (ts), Williams (p, arr), Ted Robinson (g), Booker Collins (b), Ben Thigpen (d, vcl), Pha Terrell (vcl), Andy Kirk (dir)
THE CHRONOLOGICAL ANDY KIRK AND HIS TWELVE CLOUDS OF JOY, 1937-1938
Classics 581, 1991
Personnel: Harry Lawson, Paul King, Clarence Trice, Earl Thompson (tp), Ted Donnelly (tb), Henry Wells (tb, vcl), John Harrington (cl, as, bar), John Williams (as, bar), Earl Miller (as), Dick Wilson (ts), Andy Kirk (bassax, dir), Williams (p, arr), Ted Robinson (g), Ben Thigpen (d, vcl) Pha Terrell (vcl), Leslie Johnakins (arr)
THE CHRONOLOGICAL ANDY KIRK AND HIS TWELVE CLOUDS OF JOY, 1939-1940
Classics 640, 1992
Personnel: Harry Lawson, Clarence Trice, Earl Thompson (tp), Ted Donnelly, Henry Wells (tb), John Harrington (cl, as, bar), Don Byas (as, bar), Earl Miller (as), Dick Wilson (ts), Williams (p, arr), Floyd Smith (g), Booker Collins (b), Ben Thigpen (d), O'Neil Spencer, June Richmond (vcl), Andy Kirk (dir)
THE COMPLETE COLUMBIA RECORDINGS OF MILDRED BAILEY
Mosaic Records MD 10-204, 2000
Recordings include six recordings from March 16, 1939 by Mildred Bailey and Her Oxford Greys, featuring Williams as part of quartet including Floyd Smith (el-g); John Williams (b); Eddie Dougherty (d)
THE CHRONOLOGICAL ANDY KIRK AND HIS ORCHESTRA, 1940-1942
Classics 681, 1993
Personnel: Clarence Trice, Harold "Shorty" Baker, Harry Lawson (tp), Ted Donnelly (tb), Henry Wells (tb, vcl), John Harrington (cl, as, bar) Rudy Powell, (cl, as), Dick Wilson, Edward Inge (cl, ts), Williams (p, arr), Floyd Smith (g, el-g), Booker Collins (b), Ben Thigpen (d), June Richmond (vcl), Andy Kirk (dir)
After moving to New York in 1941, Williams began a period of experimenting with modern jazz well as new forms of presenting her music. She had a four-year engagement at Cafe Society beginning in 1944—both at the original Downtown location at Sheridan Square in Greenwich Village as well as the Uptown venue on 58th Street in Midtown. They were notable for their integration policy and the wide variety of leftist-oriented entertainment booked by owner Barney Josephson based on political cabaret he saw during trips to Europe in the 1930s.
Williams was also a regular at Minton’s a beehive of activity for be-bop in Harlem. During this time, she recorded for record producer Moe Asch on the Asch, Stinson and Disc labels. Among the highlights of her compositional daring was the Zodiac Suite, with each of the twelve sections honoring musicians and selected others, among them President Franklin D. Roosevelt. She performed the suite with an orchestra and tenor saxophonist Ben Webster at Town Hall. Also covered in this era are recordings Williams made in Europe between 1952 and 1954, after which she took a three-year hiatus from jazz to tend to her religious and charitable activities. She jumpstarted her jazz career with an appearance with Dizzy Gillespie at the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival, recorded by Verve Records, which began a new phase of her career playing and writing over the next twenty-three years.
THE CHRONOLOGICAL MARY LOU WILLIAMS, 1944
Classics CD 814, 1995
Features six solo performances and small group recordings.
Mary Lou Williams and Her Chosen Five: Frankie Newton (t), Vic Dickenson (tb), Edmond Hall (cl) Williams (p), Al Lucas (b), Jack “The Bear” Parker (d)
Mary Lou Williams Trio: Edmond Hall (cl), Williams (p), Jack “The Bear” Parker (b)
Nora Lee King, vocal: Accompanied by Williams
Mary Lou Williams and Her Orchestra: Dick Vance (t), Vic Dickenson (tb), Claude Greene (cl), Don Byas (ts), Williams (p), Al Lucas (b), Jack “The Bear” Parker
Mary Lou Williams Trio: Bill Coleman (t), Williams (p), Al Hall (b)
Small group featuring Williams: Charlie Shavers (t), Trummy Young (tb), Williams (p), Remo Palmieri (g), Al Hall (b), Gordon “Specs” Powell (d)
THE CHRONOLOGICAL MARY LOU WILLIAMS, 1944-1945
Classics CD 1021, 1998
Features twenty-five selections of Williams and her orchestra, Zodiac Suite, Josh White vocal, and piano
solos; recorded between December 11, 1944 and June 29, 1945.
THE ZODIAC SUITE
Jazz Classics, JZCL 6002, 1996
The Complete Town Hall Concert of December 31, 1945, featuring Williams and her big band and symphony orchestra.
Personnel: Mary Lou Williams (vcl, p) acc by unknown tp, tb, fhr, fl, cl, Irving "Mouse" Randolph (tp), Henderson Chambers (tb-1), Edmond Hall (cl-2), Eddie Barefield (cl), Ben Webster (ts), Al Hall (b), J.C. Heard (d), Hope Foy (vcl) + strings, Milton Orent (cond)
THE ZODIAC SUITE
Smithsonian/Folkways, SF CD 40810, 1995
Features seventeen tracks, including unreleased selections, originally recorded by Moe Asch on June 29, 1945, with authoritative liner notes by longtime Institute of Jazz Studies director Dan Morgenstern.
THE CHRONOLOGICAL MARY LOU WILLIAMS, 1945-1947
Classics 1050, 1999
THE CHRONOLOGICAL MARY LOU WILLIAMS, 1949-1951
Classics 1260, 2002
LADIES OF JAZZ: MARY JOU WILLIAMS AND BARBARA CARROLL
Koch Jazz KOC-CD-8528, 1999
Williams with Carol Pruitt (b), Bill Clark (d), recorded March 7, 1951 in New York.
THE CHRONOLOGICAL MARY LOU WILLIAMS, 1951-1953
Classics 1346, 2004
Mary Lou Williams and Her Modern Music: Williams and unknown rhythm section
Mary Lou Williams and Her Rhythm: Williams, Jack Fallon (b), Gerry McLaughlin (d)
Mary Lou Williams Quartet: Williams (p), Ray Dempsey (g), Rupert Nurse (b), Tony Kinsey (d)
MARY LOU WILLIAMS: The FIRST LADY OF THE PIANO, 1952-1971
Giants of Jazz, CD 53180, 1993
Retrospective collection covers the period leading up to her two years in Europe; recordings from London and and Paris in 1953; New York Club dates from 1955 before jumping ahead eight years to 1963 to recordings of some of her early religious music; and wrapping up with a performance at the Overseas Press Club in 1971. Nineteen tracks feature such jazz stars as Dizzy Gillespie, Bobby Hackett, Don Byas, Harold “Shorty” Baker, Vic Dickenson, Eddie Safranski, Wendell Marshall, Budd Johnson, Grant Green, Percy Heath.
THE LONDON SESSIONS
Vogue 74321115162, 1993
Twenty-two tracks of Mary Lou Williams quartets, recorded in London in January 1953 and in 1954.
AMERICAN IN PARIS: MARY LOU WILLIAMS AND GERRY WIGGINS
Vogue, 74321115052, 1992
Eight tracks of Williams trio with tenor saxophonist Don Byas recorded in Paris on December 2, 1953.
MARY LOU WILLIAMS: LADY PIANO
Black Bird Records
A bootleg reissue of 12 solo, duo and trio recordings made for the Jazztone Society on March 8 and 10, 1955.
DIZZY GILLESPIE AT NEWPORT
Verve 314 513 754-2, 1992
Williams plays on two tracks of this reissue of July 6, 1957 concert of Gillespie big band at Newport Jazz
Festival, including "Selections from Zodiac Suite.”
Personnel: Dizzy Gillespie (tp, vcl), Lee Morgan, Ermit V. Perry, Carl Warwick, Talib Ahmad Dawud (tp), Melba Liston (tb), Al Grey, Ray Connors (tb), Jimmy Powell, Ernie Henry (as), Billy Mitchell, Benny Golson (ts), Pee Wee Moore (bar), Williams (p), Paul West (b), Charlie Persip (d)
3a. Jazz Liturgical and Choral Music, and Masses
MARY LOU WILLIAMS PRESENTS BLACK CHRIST OF THE ANDES
Saba Records 1506ST, 1963; Smithsonian Folkways SFWCD 40816, 2004
This recording dedicated to St. Martin de Porres, a seventeenth-century Dominican lay brother on the event of his canonization, was recorded in October and November 1963. Liner notes were written by Fr. Peter F. O’Brien, S.J., who was also reissue producer.
Personnel: Budd Johnson (b cl, tsax), Williams (composer, p), Larry Gales, Percy Heath, Theodore Cromwell (b), George Chamble, Percy Brice, Tim Kennedy (d), Grant Green (g), The George Gordon Singers, The Ray Charles Singers (choir), Jimmy Mitchell (vcl), Howard Roberts (cond)
PRAISE THE LORD IN MANY VOICES, Volume 2
Avant Garde Records, AVS-103, 1967
The program staged at Carnegie Hall on February 5, 1967 features four of Williams’s compositions with a group of interfaith instrumentalists and a choral ensemble.
Personnel: Roger Glenn (fl), David Amram (fl, fhr), Julius Watkins (fhr), Williams (p, comp, arr), Leon Atkinson, Clarence "Sonny" Henry, Leon Atkinson (g), Chris White, Milton Suggs (b), Carline Ray (b,vcl), David Parker, Al Harewood (d), Mustafa Abdul Rahman (cga); Ralph MacDonald (perc), Carl Hall, Milt Grayson, James Bailey, Honi Gordon, Eileen Gilbert, Randy Peyton, Christine Spencer, Peterhead (vcl), Howard Roberts (cond)
MUSIC FOR PEACE (MARY LOU’S MASS)
Mary Records M102, 1975; Smithsonian Folkways SFW 40815, 2005
Williams' third Mass composed in 1967, 1969 and 1970 began with a commission from the Pontifical Commission on Justice and Peace at the Vatican was recorded in 1972.
3b. Recordings of Standard Jazz Repertoire
THE HISTORY OF JAZZ-MARY LOU WILLIAMS
This 1970 recording features Williams narrating her interpretation of the history of jazz, with piano solos to illustrate her points.
Perception PLP19, Collectables COL5616
Session at the Overseas Press Club, January 31, 1971
Chiaroscuro, CR(D) 103, 1998
Reissue of 24 tracks of solo piano recorded in May, June and October 1971. Also features 32 minutes of Williams speaking about her early career.
NEWPORT IN NEW YORK '72, VOLUMES 1-6
Cobblestone CST 9032-6
July 3, 1972 concert at Radio City Music Hall, featuring Williams with Dizzy Gillespie (tp), Bennie Green (tb), Stan Getz (ts), Milt Jackson (vib), Williams (p), Kenny Burrell (g), John Blair (vln), Percy Heath (b), Max Roach (d), Big Black (cga)
BUDDY TATE AND HIS BUDDIES
Chiaroscuro, CR(D) 123, 1994
Reissue of five tracks recorded on June 1, 1973 with Tate (ts), Williams (p), Roy Eldridge (tp), Illinois Jacquet (ts), Steve Jordan (g), Milt Hinton (b) and Gus Johnson (d).
Smithsonian/Folkways, SF CD 40811, 1995
Reissue of 13 tracks of 1974 recording originally issued on Mary Records. Features Williams with pianist Zita Carnow, bassists Milton Suggs and Bob Cranshaw, and Mickey Roker on drums.
MARY LOU WILIAMS LIVE AT THE COOKERY
Chiaroscuro, CR(D) 146, 1990
Reissue of twelve tracks recorded at New York club, November 1975, with bassist Brian Torff.
A GRAND NIGHT FOR SWINGING
Williams recorded with Ronnie Boykins (b) and Roy Haynes (b) in the winter of 1976 in Buffalo.
SteepleChase, SCCD 31043, 1987
Reissue of 12 tracks with bassist Buster Williams and drummer Mickey Roker recorded on July 8, 1976.
Pablo, PACD 2620-108-2, 1995
Reissue of ten tracks from an April 17, 1977 Mary Lou Williams/Cecil Taylor recital at Carnegie Hall.
High Note #CD7097
Williams celebrated her sixty-seventh birthday with this recording May 8, 1977 at the famed San Francisco Jazz Club with bassist Larry Gales and the drummer Eddie Marshall.
MY MAMA PINNED A ROSE ON ME
Pablo 2310-819 (LP,) OJC CD1108-2 (CD)
Album comprised of piano solos and trios with Williams (p), Buster Williams (b), and Cynthia Tyscon (vcl) from December 1977.
BENNY GOODMAN 40th ANNIVERSARY CONCERT
London 820 349-2
Two CD set of 40th anniversary concert at Carnegie Hall, recorded January 17, 1978. Williams joins other guests and Goodman big band for reunion.
SOLO RECITAL, MONTREUX JAZZ FESTIVAL
Pablo/Original Jazz Classics, OJCCD 962-2, 1998
Williams playing solo piano, July 16, 1978.
MARIAN McPARTLAND'S PIANO JAZZ WITH GUEST MARY LOU WILLIAMS
The Jazz Alliance, TJA 12019, 1995
A recording of the premier broadcast of McPartland's National Public Radio series, recorded October 9, 1978, with Ronnie Boykins on bass.
AT RICK'S CAFÉ AMERICAIN, 1979
Storyville, STCD 8285, 1998
Williams with Milton Suggs, bass, and Drashear Khalid, drums), recorded November 14, 1979.
MARY LOU WILLIAMS’S MUSIC RECORDED BY OTHER MUSICIANS, 1936-2008
THE INDISPENSABLE BENNY GOODMAN, 1936-1937
This Goodman reissue containing 32 of his recordings from the mid-thirties contain two of Williams' arrangements of her compositions, "Roll 'Em" and "Camel Hop."
BENNY GOODMAN: THE JAZZ COLLECTOR EDITION
Laserlight 15762, 1992
This Goodman quartet featuring Lionel Hampton, Teddy Wilson and Gene Krupa tackles "Lonely Moments" in a retrospective of 14 recordings.
HONI GORDON SINGS
Original Jazz Classics OJCCD-1783-2, 1992
Two extended versions of "Roll 'Em" appear among 20 live recordings between July and October 1941.
VIC DICKENSON: BREAKS, BLUES AND BOOGIES
Pearl Flapper 1065
The veteran Count Basie trombonist plays Williams' "Gjon Mili Jam Session" among 21 selections recorded between 1941-1946.
THE DUKE ELLINGTON: CARNEGIE HALL CONCERTS, DECEMBER 1944
Prestige 2 PCD-24073-2
Concert features William's original arrangement for Duke Ellington on "Blue Skies."
THE CHRONOLOGICAL EDMOND HALL, 1944-1945
Classics 872, 1996
The clarinet player offers his rendition of "Lonely Moments" in this retrospective of recordings from the mid-forties.
STAN HASSELGÄRD AT CLICK
The 1948 live recordings from the Click in Philadelphia, including Williams' "Mary's Idea," feature most of the existing airchecks of the clarinet player with Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson and Wardell Gray.
DIZZY GILLESPIE: THE COMPLETE RCA VICTOR RECORDINGS, 1937-1949
Bluebird [or RCA ] 66258, 1995
Bebop guiding light confirms Williams' modernism in the 1940s with his 1949 recording of "In the Land of Oo-Bla-Dee," one of 43 recordings between 1937-1949.
ELLA SWINGS LIGHTLY
Ella Fitzgerald sings "What's Your Story, Morning Glory?" in the reissue of a 1958 album of 20 songs.
ANITA O'DAY, 1956-1962
Giants of Jazz 53145, 1998
The singer performs "What's Your Story, Morning Glory?" in an album of jazz standards.
MARIAN McPARTLAND PLAYS THE MUSIC OF MARY LOU WILLIAMS
Concord Records 4605, 1994
McPartland, joined by bassist Bill Douglass and drummer Omar Clay, plays 14 Williams compositions.
PIANO JAZZ: MARIAN McPARTLAND AND JAY McSHANN
Jazz Alliance 10230, 1996
McPartland and her guest play "What's Your Story, Morning Glory?"
JOHN HICKS: IMPRESSIONS OF MARY LOU WILLIAMS
High Note HCD 7046, 2000
Pianist John Hicks, whom Williams took under her wing early in his career, plays tribute with seven of Williams' compositions from Music for Peace, Zodiac Suite, Mary Lou's mass and Zoning. He plays five compositions of his own written with Williams in mind.
DAVE DOUGLAS: SOUL ON SOUL
RCA 63603, 2000
This album constituting of trumpeter Dave Douglas' tribute to Mary Lou Williams was named Down Beat's Album of the Year in August 2000. Douglas reinterprets "Aries" from “The Zodiac Suite," "Waltz Boogie," "Mary's Idea," and "Play It Mama," in addition to 9 originals that evoke her spirit.
JAMES WILLIAMS MAGICAL TRIO: AWESOME!
DIW 623, 2000
The soulful pianist tips his hat to Williams' "Lonely Moments" on an album of great American composers.
THE DUTCH JAZZ ORCHESTRA: REDISCOVERED MUSIC OF MARY LOU WILLIAMS
Challenge Records CR73251, 2005
Arranged and conducted by Walter van de Leur.
ZODIAC SUITE, REVISITED
Mary Records, 2000
Mary Lou Williams Collective: Geri Allen (p), Buster Williams (b), Billy Hart (d)
THE U.S. ARMY FIELD BAND FROM WASHINGTON, D.C.: THE LEGACY OF MARY LOU WILLIAMS
Featuring Geri Allen and Andy Bey, 2007.
TRIO 3: CELEBRATING MARY LOU WILLIAMS
Intakt 187, 2008
Oliver Lake (as, fl), Geri Allen (p, vcl), Reggie Workman (b), Andrew Cyrille (cga, d)
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