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Mary Lou Williams
Today we’re listening to Mary Lou Williams, an American jazz pianist from Atlanta. She was born in 1910 to a mother who played piano for the local church.1 As a baby Mary Lou sat on her mother’s lap as she practiced, and around age three started fingering melodies on the keys. By age six she was picking up gigs across the city, and by age 13 was playing with Duke Ellington. Williams became the go-to pianist for ensembles and big bands across the country, going on to mentor up-and-comers like Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk.2 We’re playing her 1953 album Mary Lou Williams Plays in London, a collection of standards with only bass and drum accompanists. Then we’re playing Zodiac Suite, her 1945 record of original compositions and improvisations.
Have a terrific Thursday.
Smithsonian Interviews with Jazz Musicians, via Rutgers. Most if not all of the facts in this post originated from this interview. Thank you to the Smithsonian for conducting this interview (in 1973) and to Rutgers for digitizing its collection.