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Mary Lou Williams: A Grand Night for Swinging

Jack Bowers By

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It's always a pleasure to welcome a "new" album by pianist Mary Lou Williams, even one recorded more than three decades ago under less than favorable circumstances. Williams' trio (Ronnie Boykins, bass; Roy Haynes, drums) was taped in mid-winter 1976 during a long-running gig in snow-covered Buffalo, New York. As is true of many live recordings, especially those made years ago, the sound varies noticeably from track to track, with fluctuating volume levels and some surface noise, but Williams and her partners rise above those blemishes to present a consistently satisfying program of standards and originals.

The concert begins and ends with the title song, written by fellow pianist Billy Taylor, which Williams customarily used as the closing number in most of her sets. The standards "I Can't Get Started" and "My Funny Valentine" precede Williams' well-grooved original, "Bags' Blues" (an answer to Milt Jackson's "Bags' Groove"). A faster-paced blues, W.C. Handy's venerable "St. Louis Blues," is next, followed by John Stubblefield's boogie-like "Baby Man" and Juan Tizol's long-running "Caravan," on which Haynes takes center stage for an extended solo.

As the piece de resistance after the closing number, "A Grand Night for Swinging," there's a nearly five-minute interview with Williams. She reveals how she started playing professionally at age six (seated on other musicians' laps), discusses her decade-long "classroom experience" with Andy Kirk's band and, finally, her later spiritual awakening and temporary hiatus from jazz.

At the keyboard, Williams had technique to burn, but more than that, always seemed to be having a grand time—and she could swing the phone book. In fact, any night that she played piano was A Grand Night for Swinging. The trio is in splendid form, and Williams' sunny piano clearly outshines any visible (or audible) clouds, making this session more than worthwhile.


Track Listing: A Grand Night for Swinging; I Can't Get Started; My Funny Valentine; Bag's Blues; St. Louis Blues; Baby Man; Caravan; A Grand Night for Swinging; Interview with Mary Lou Williams.

Personnel: Mary Lou Williams: piano; Ronnie Boykins: bass; Roy Haynes: drums.

Title: A Grand Night for Swinging | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: HighNote Records

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