[Dixielandjazz] Mary Lou Williams

Daniel Barrett danpbarrett at hotmail.com
Fri Oct 15 00:47:48 PDT 2010

 Dear Mr. Calder,
Thanks for your thoughtful and well-written comments about Mary Lou Williams. This is much more than I ever knew about her!  I will listen in another way to her playing, with special attention to her touch.
I very much enjoyed reading what you had to say, and look forward to your next contributions.
Dan Barrett
Costa Mesa, CA
> Date: Fri, 15 Oct 2010 08:08:38 +0100
> From: serapion at btinternet.com
> Subject: [Dixielandjazz] Mary Lou Williams
> CC: dixielandjazz at ml.islandnet.com
> To: danpbarrett at hotmail.com
> I'm not sure the main influence on Mary Lou was so much Earl Hines or indeed 
> Jelly as a range of 
> piano players they both heard early on in the vicinity of Pittsburg. The Hines 
> style was almost all there when he performed Southland on record with Lois Deppe 
>  in November 1923 -- Louis' development of timing and phrasing and harmony 
> allowed extensions. And Mary Lou was possibly and literally the last pianist in 
> her 
> lifetime to miss taking up and developing new things. From Jelly to names which 
> would strike a chill in some contributors to this site. There were lots and lots 
> of raggy pianists here and there, loads of unrecorded pianists, who played 
> something between ragtime and jazz, and continued to do so as other pianists 
> started to do more interesting things. She didn't need to hear Jelly to get some 
> way along. As I recall he played a bit at their first meeting, and she was 
> sufficiently far from intimidated to play back what he had done from memory. 
> And then she travelled around a lot, and picked up more from people who had 
> recorded, and quite possibly others too. But she and Earl Hines could mention 
> the people they heard around Pittsburg. And somehow a young white guy called Bob 
> Zurke found his way into a very distinctive approach which impressed Jelly and 
> stayed in Ralph Sutton's repertoire for all of Ralph's life. Steve J. Lewis was 
> reputed a superior pianist to Jelly,. and he did come to New York with 
> Piron's orchestra, but after cutting one piano roll and a few band and 
> accompaniment performances there is no more. 
> How good did Lovie Austin have to be to impress Mary Lou when she first heard 
> her? The influence of famous musicians was in the extending of Mary Lou 
> musically, as indeed was Kansas City.  
> An important thing with Mary Lou is the matter of touch and phrasing, She didn't 
> hit the keys, she had a touch as distinctive as Ellis Larkins, a soft attack 
> which have her a very different flow, and different fingering prospects from a 
> lot of pianists. She could hear a lot of things -- unlike one or two very 
> impressive young trumpeters I've heard, who could play wonderfully when not 
> trying to deliver bop changes they could not hear. She could certainly finger 
> music miles away from the rhythmic primacy of Jelly, or Tuts Washington of the 
> older New Orleans school. Her attempts at boogie woogie lack the percussive or 
> cutting edge. 
> I have an ancient magazine in which Ram Ramirez (whom Dick Lee declared the 
> smallest big band he had ever heard) attributed his considerable alas 
> ill-acknowledged achievements those of a disciple of the tragically short-lived 
> Garnet Clark, There is also the story of a band whose name I forget (Jo Jones 
> was the drummer) turning up in the Grand Terrace c. 1929 with a pianist called 
> Burton Brewer who scared Earl Hines -- but had died by the time the band 
> recorded with Jo on drums. 
> And then there was Billy Kyle, hugely influential for more style than substance. 
> There was an LP from about forty years ago which purported to be Art Tatum 
> transcription recordings, supposedly compositions of his own. It certainly was 
> him on "Gang o' Notes" as a brilliant stride number was called, but when the 
> Tatum scholar Ray Spencer reviewed the LP he opined that not every item was 
> Tatum. He was wantonly rude about Meade Lux Lewis in referring to some blues 
> performances which he said were not Tatum. With some additional decades of 
> listening informing me I went back to the LP a few years ago and it seemed to me 
> obvious that the alleged non-Tatum items were indeed non-Tatum, I was also very 
> certain they were Mary Lou -- I think the idea with the Tatum was that he would 
> record some new compositions and someone would transcribe them !!!  Tatum?  This 
> might have been what happened with the Mary Lou. 
> She used to be spoken of as lacking in individuality because she could and did 
> perform over such a wide range, and there is something completely different 
> about her playing -- lyrical rather than dramatic, though I hasten to insist 
> that hers was so huge an innate musical endowment the contrast identifies a 
> matter of emphasis rather than incapacity. 
> I'm fairly sure that when anybody did anything new she could understand it, and 
> that she started her musical career naive about the range of music and indeed 
> the scale of her own abilities. I would suggest she was a giant of a different 
> sort from the other giants Dan mentions. 
> I wonder what happened to the recordings which briefly turned up under the 
> Tatum name. They're not so interesting, since unlike the Tatum masterpiece I 
> mentioned they do sound like attempts to deliver what might be turned into sheet 
> music and sold and played when boogie woogie was in fashion. 
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