“Mary Lou Williams is perpetually contemporary. Her writing and performing have always been a little ahead throughout her career…but her music retains—and maintains—a standard of quality that is timeless. She is like soul on soul.” Duke Ellington
Over the past several weeks I have been listening to a great deal of Mary Lou Williams’ music in preparation for a concert at the Barrie Jazz & Blues Festival (Yamaha Piano Series “Giants of Jazz” ) this Saturday, June 11. The more I listen, the more astounded I am by Mary’s playing, writing and arranging. You can read about the project here.
In my previous postings about Mary Lou I focussed on her boogie woogie bass lines. In this post I am going to illustrate some of her other wonderful bass grooves. I have found Mary’s compositions to be a huge amount of fun to play. Her grooves are strong, interesting and incredibly satisfying. They also provide a very open space from which to solo. She can be funky, angular and soulful, but most of all she has left a wealth of beautiful music behind her just waiting to be discovered.
Let’s start with her incredible Zodiac Suite written in 1945. Here is an excerpt from “Scorpio”
The piece opens with this gorgeous bass line, over which Mary plays an angular melody making use of the whole tone scale as well as chromatic intervals. It’s provides a wonderful basis for improvisation.
The piece continues with a transition into a bluesy bass groove.
(click to enlarge. note: my transcription is from her 1975 recording. Please contact me if you’d like the complete transcription)
Here is Mary Lou playing it on her Zodiac Suite recording from 1945.
“Black Christ of the Andes” was recorded in 1964, and contains a very funky arrangement of “My Blue Heaven”. Here is the bass line:
Who knew that playing “My Blue Heaven” could be so much fun?
Here’s Mary’s original recording from 1964
…and here’s Mary and her trio from a live recording in 1978
“Offertory Mediation” is a beautiful minor blues waltz which can be found on the Norman Granz Jazz in Montreux series from 1978.
Check out this fabulous up tempo bass groove.
“Offertory Meditation” begins at 4:19 after “Over the Rainbow” (which is amazing in itself!)