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Mary Lou Williams

Guide for jazz pianist, arranger, and composer Mary Lou Williams

Recordings of Mary Lou Willilams

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.

 

1.  1927-1942

 

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.

 

Personnel includes:

Jeannette James’s Synco Jazzers: Henry McCord (tp), Bradley Bullett (tb), John Williams (as, bassax), Mary Lou Burley [Williams] (p), Joe Williams (bj), Robert Price (d)

 

John Williams’s Synco Jazzers: Henry McCord (tp), Bradley Bullett (tb), John Williams (as, bassax), Mary Lou Burley [Williams] (p), Joe Williams (bj), Robert Price (d)

 

Mary Lou Williams Trio: Accompanied by Booker Collins (b), Ben Thigpen (d)

 

Mary Lou Williams Quartet: Ted Robinson added; Williams doubles on celeste

 

Six Men and a Girl: Earl Thompson (tp), Earl Miller (cl, as), Dick Wilson (ts), Williams (p), Floyd Smith (el-g), Booker Collins (b), Ben Thigpen (d)

 

Mary Lou Williams and Her Kansas City Seven: Harold "Shorty" Baker (tp), Ted Donnelly (tb), Edward Inge (cl), Dick Wilson (ts), Williams (p) Booker Collins (b) Ben Thigpen (d)

 

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)

 

2.  1944-1957

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.

 

Personnel: Williams (p), Al Lucas (b), Jack "The Bear" Parker (d), or Williams solo on

 

THE CHRONOLOGICAL MARY LOU WILLIAMS, 1945-1947

Classics 1050, 1999

 

Mary Lou Williams Girl Stars: Marjorie Hyams (vib,d-1), Williams (p), Mary Osborne (g, vcl), Bea Taylor (b), Bridget O'Flynn (d, vib-1)

 

Mary Lou Williams Girl Stars: Marjorie Hyams (vib), Williams (p), Mary Osborne (g, vcl), June Rotenberg (b), Rose Gottesman (d)

 

Mary Lou Williams Trio: Williams (p), June Rotenberg (b), Bridget O'Flynn (d)

 

Mary Lou Williams Quartet: Williams (p), Mary Osborne (g), June Rotenberg (b), Bridget O'Flynn (d)

Mary Lou Williams Quartet: Kenny Dorham (tp), Williams (p), John H. Smith, Jr. (g), Grachan Moncur (b)

 

THE CHRONOLOGICAL MARY LOU WILLIAMS, 1949-1951

Classics 1260, 2002

 

Mary Lou Williams Orchestra: Idrees Sulieman (tp), Marty Glaser (b-cl,) Al Feldman (cl, as), Williams (p), Mundell Lowe (g), George Duvivier (b), Denzil Best (d), Kenny Hagood (vcl)

 

Mary Lou Williams Quartet: Williams (p, org), Mundell Lowe (g), George Duvivier (b), Denzil Best (d)

 

Mary Lou Williams Trio: Williams (p), Carl Pruitt (b), Bill Clark (d)

 

Mary Lou Williams Quintet: Williams (p), Billy Taylor, Sr. (b), Al Walker (d), Willie Guerra (bgo), Dave Lambert Singers (vcl)

 

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 Trio: Williams (p), Billy Taylor, Sr. (b), Willie Guerra (bgo)

 

Mary Lou Williams and Her Modern Music: Williams and unknown rhythm section

 

Mary Lou Williams and Her Orchestra: Harold "Shorty" Baker (tp), Vic Dickenson (tb), Morris Lane (ts), Williams (p), Nevell John (g), Eddie Safranski (b), Don Lamond (d)

 

Mary Lou Williams Trio: Williams (p), Kenny Napper (b), Allan Ganley (d), Tony Scott (bgo-1)

 

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.

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