Mary Lou Williams – A Grand Night for Swinging – HighNoteThe Mary Lou Williams Collective – Zodiac Suite: Revisited – Mary Records

by | Mar 18, 2008 | Jazz CD Reviews | 0 comments

Mary Lou Williams – A Grand Night for Swinging – HighNote HCD 7180, 52:36 ****:

(Mary Lou Williams, piano; Ronnie Boykins, bass; Roy Haynes, drums)

The Mary Lou Williams Collective – Zodiac Suite: Revisited – Mary Records  M104, 74:00 ****:

(Geri Allen, piano; Buster Williams, bass; Billy Hart or Andrew Cyrille, drums)

Mary Lou Williams was a towering figure in jazz who lived until 1981. She may hold the title of the most influential woman in jazz history. In a role much like Nadia Boulanger in the classical world, Williams was teacher and mentor to such as Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie.  She began as a stride pianist and later did arrangements for Ellington and Benny Goodman and recorded widely.  In the 1960s she began to focus on sacred music and composed masses and other liturgical works in jazz.

The first CD is a reissue off a live recording of Williams made in 1976 during a gig at a hotel in Buffalo, New York.  The musical portion of the CD opens and closes with different versions of a Billy Taylor tune, A Grand Night for Swinging.  The only one of the seven tunes here that’s an original would be Bag’s Blues, which makes reference to Milt Jackson’s well-known Bag’s Groove.  At the end of the program is a five-minute interview with Mary Lou, which is a nice touch. She talks about the healing power of jazz in wartime.  I don’t know the format or state of the original recording for this reissue, but it has a bit of flutter (speed inconsistency) – not enough to make it unlistenable, but if you’re sensitive to that as I am you might want to skip this one.

TrackList: A Grand Night for Swinging, I Cant’ Get Started, My Funny Valentine, Bag’s Blues, St. Louis Blues, Baby Man, Caravan, A Grand Night for Swinging, Interview with Mary

The Mary Lou Collective is what pianist Geri Allen calls her trio which specializes in interpretations of Williams’ music.  (The extensive notes in the CD booklet for this album are by Rev. Peter F. O’Brien, S.J., the Catholic priest who was father confessor and sort of mentor to both Williams and Dizzy’s wife Lorraine when they converted to Catholicism.)  The main work here is a performance of the complete 12 movements of William’s extended opus, the Zodiac Suite, which Williams began writing in the early 1940s when she was a solo pianist in NYC.  The work went thru many revisions, including her arranging three movements for a 70-piece symphony orchestra which performed them at Carnegie Hall in 1946.

This new recording is a fresh look at the Zodiac Suite which Mary Lou Williams herself had recorded back in 1945.  The disc is rounded out with one other original by Williams – Intermission – plus Herbie Nichols’ BeBop Waltz and pianist Allen’s own Thank You Madam.  She must be referring to Mary Lou Williams with that title and the entire jazz world has much to thank her for.

TrackList: Zodiac Suite, The BeBop Waltz, Intermission, Thank You Madam.

[More information may be found at]

 – John Henry

Related Reviews