Mary Lou Williams: 'Mary Lou Williams: 1927-1940'

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The cover of Mary Lou Williams: 1927-1940

A.B. SPELLMAN, National Endowment for the Arts: That's called "Clean Pickin" and truly a cleaner piano sound would be hard to find, even in the NPR Basic Jazz Record Library. Murray Horwitz, tell us more about Mary Lou Williams and her piano style.

MURRAY HORWITZ, American Film Institute: Well, it's not just her piano, A.B., as you well know. Mary Lou Williams is really one of the treasures of American music. She composed for the New York Philharmonic. She arranged for Duke Ellington. She taught Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie. She even left music for a long time to do humanitarian work, and yes, by the way, she was a killer pianist.

[MUSIC]

SPELLMAN: Well, that's all well and good Murray, but you're really ducking the question.

HORWITZ: Well, it's hard to pin her down as a pianist, but with this CD, you'll have a lot of fun trying. You get to track a major artist when she was 17 years old, in 1927, all the way to 1940, by which time she was a mature musician. And okay, to answer your question, what I hear is a kind of expression that's hard swinging and forceful, but no less subtle for all of that. It's very thoughtful music, with a real compositional mind at work.

[MUSIC]

SPELLMAN: Actually the word that I was looking for Murray, was boogie woogie. Mary Lou Williams spent a good deal of time as music director of that great band, Andy Kirk and His Twelve Clouds of Joy. And that took her to Kansas City for a long spell.

HORWITZ: I well know your passion for boogie woogie, A.B., and you're right. Kansas City swing is all through her piano work. I apologize. I don't think anybody ever played boogie woogie as sensuously as Mary Lou Williams.

[MUSIC]

SPELLMAN: The CD is called Mary Lou Williams 1927-1940. It's on the Classics label.

HORWITZ: For NPR Jazz, I'm Murray Horwitz.

SPELLMAN: And, I'm A.B. Spellman.

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