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Archive for May, 2011

Here are two more boogie woogie bass patterns. You can read part one over here.

The following bass lines are played with swing 8th notes.

(click on image to enlarge)

This can be played over blues changes. Mary plays this at lightening speed, and once again she plays the bottom note with both the 4th and 5th fingers.

Have fun maintaining this one at a fast clip for several choruses!

Here’s a recording of Mary Lou playing Roll ‘Em in 1948 with members of Benny Carter’s orchestra. Enjoy!

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Preamble

On June 11 I will be presenting a concert about Mary Lou Williams at the Barrie Jazz & Blues Festival. I’ll be talking about her life and playing her music. George Koller will be joining me on bass, and Nick Fraserwill be playing drums. It’s a fascinating project. In a career that ran from the mid 1920’s until her death in 1981 Mary Lou remained, in Duke Ellington’s words, “perpetually contemporary” and was an especially formative figure on the Kansas City scene of the 1930’s and in New York during the 1940’s. She wrote hundreds of compositions and played in every style from boogie to swing to bebop to modern, influencing several important musicians along the way. Many came to hang out in her apartment.

Mary Lou with Jack Teagarden, Dixie Bailey, Hank Jones, Tadd Dameron and Milt Orent in Mary Lou’s apartment, Aug 1947

Boogie woogie

Here is an example of a rolling octave boogie woogie bass line. (played an octave lower than written)

(click on image to enlarge)

Mary Lou is nothing short of a powerhouse. Her left hand has tremendous strength and stamina. Over the past several weeks I’ve been trying various left hand boogie patterns and trying to sustain them over periods of time. I’m in awe of her.

A couple of days ago I watched Mary Lou Williams 1978 concert from Norman Granz “Jazz at Montreux”. The camera work is great with a lot of close-ups of her left hand.

As the camera zoomed in, I began to notice that her bass notes were being played by both her 4th and 5th fingers at the same time. Two fingers on one note! A revelation! It’s also something I had never attempted before. But as I tried it out and thought about it, it began to make a huge amount of sense. First of all, it doubles the strength of the weakest finger while giving it support. The bottom note needs to be hammered in the boogie woogie style. Secondly, it changes the angle of the hand so that you’re not spreading your fingers out straight, but rather angling the hand to the left, which is way less strenuous. All of the action is in the rotation of the wrist. It didn’t take long before this way of playing began to feel less foreign and more comfortable. I imagined how I could apply it in other contexts. In fact, I had a gig that night and kept looking for opportunities to hammer out a bass note using those two fingers. The tone was strong, heavy and warm.

Do any other piano players use this technique in any style of music? I wonder where Mary Lou got it from and I’m very curious to know who else uses this.

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