Pianist and world treasure Marian McPartland, who received a NARAS Trustees Award at this year’s Grammy Awards, has hosted her radio show Piano Jazz for about a quarter century. The Jazz Alliance label has captured a few of these jewels on CD, including the wonderful premiere featuring the very underappreciated pianist, arranger and composer Mary Lou Williams (1910-1981). From the moment McPartland gushes “Mary Lou!” the listener is in for a special treat: two jazz legends and good friends, performing and talking about what they love.
The disc opens with Williams, along with bassist Ronnie Boykins (who also performs marvellously here), swinging along on her tune “Space Playing Blues.” “Baby Man” is supposed to be a slow blues, but Williams is so spry on the keys that she almost seems to defeat the purpose. She plays the ballad “What’s Your Story, Morning Glory?” with stunning dexterity, making the notes cascade from her fingers. The first duet Williams and McPartland share, “Scratchin’ in the Gravel,” is played with perfect harmony and timing, as though the two have played together for years. Boykins has a great plucked/bowed/plucked moment on “Medi No. 2.” Williams is especially charming when, on a playful dare from McPartland, she sings a gravelly and diffident “Rosa Mae.”
The between-song banter between the players is also both informative and entertaining. Williams’ description of Fats Waller’s style (“like a metronome... has a lot of love in it”); the effect that playing boogie-woogie has on the arms; how to adjust the keys in which one plays to account for the effect of humidity on the piano; Williams’ pride in her place in jazz history (“I’m the only living musician that has played all the eras. Other musicians lived through the eras and they never changed their styles.”) At one point McPartland asks Williams to replay some of her left hand changes, adding playfully “I’m trying to steal it, can’t you tell?” Williams responds by wordlessly going into a lovely “I Can’t Get Started.”
This review originally appeared in AllAboutJazz-New York
Personnel: Marian McPartland - piano.