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Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Mary Lou Williams
I absolutely love the music of Mary Lou Williams and her playing completely inspires me.
I always feel from her playing that she was a "free spirit"-inventing her own way across the piano keyboard. She'll grab some ideas out of this bag and that and then completely turn everything upside down inside out-it's like being on the roller coaster of jazz!
For the past couple of weeks I've been intently listening to Mary Lou's sacred music-and transcribing a few tunes for our upcoming Jazz Vespers at the Allwood Community Church on May 23rd.The recordings I've been listening to and transcribing from are Mary Lou's Mass, Zoning, and Solo Recital Live at the Montreux Jazz Festival 1978. I particularly like "Gloria"-which is on all three recordings, and "Offertory/Meditation" which is only on the Montreux recording. Medi I & II is another tune I transcribed-those are on Mary Lou's Mass and Zoning.
I have a few more tunes to transcribe-the difficulty is which ones to I pick-they're all good!
"O.W." named for the tenor saxophonist Orlando Wright- is a very interesting tune from Mary Lou's Mass-it's starts out like a sort of boogaloo/reggae tune-then it goes into swing-then back again then into another groove. The liner notes say it was also used in Mary Lou's Pittsburgh Mass, and I have it on another recording from 1954-when she was in Paris-but it's a completely different tune. That's one of the things that I love about Mary Lou-she'll take her tunes and put them into any situation-it's all sacred to her.
My fellow musicians for the Jazz Vespers event have requested the tune "Act of Contrition" a very beautiful tune-almost like a jazz art song-short and to the point. It's a ballad that starts off with only a bass line between the piano and bass-which is repeated over and over-then vocalist Honi Gordon comes in-then Mary Lou comes in with the harmony. The vocal line is a lot like the bass line-just a few more ornamentations-almost like she's ghosting the bass line. It's one of those tunes that you say-whoa-what was that-then you have to listen to it a couple of more times.
If we had a vocalist there are many more tunes I would do-including the intriguing "It's Always Spring"-another tune from the Mary Lou's Mass recording. The lead vocalist on that is Leon Thomas-man-that is another era gone by-I sure do miss him too.
So now I'm deciding between "Willis", "Old Time Spiritual" and "Credo"-although I might do all 3.
Meanwhile-if you want to catch up on all things Mary Lou-go to the Mary Lou Foundation website-there are a few concerts coming up, there's video of an interview and of her playing.
The photo of Mary Lou is from their website.