One of my Hamilton College classmates, Carol Bash, spent the past twelve years crafting and building an excellent documentary on the life of jazz pianist and arranger Mary Lou Williams. If you get a chance to turn to your public broadcasting station to see Mary Lou Williams: The Lady Who Swings the Band, do so. I’m serious. You will not regret it. Carol presented the documentary during our college reunion, and it was an amazing and well-researched piece.
If you’ve never heard Mary Lou Williams’ work, let me share a few pieces for you. And after you hear this fantastic music, contact your local public broadcasting station and ask them when their next airing of “Mary Lou Williams: The Lady Who Swings The Band” will be.
This first track is called “Night Life,” and this little 78 RPM became Mary Lou Williams’ first hit.
In addition to performing for Andy Kirk’s Twelve Clouds of Joy, Williams found success as an arranger for other artists. She wrote this piece, “Roll ‘Em,” for Benny Goodman’s orchestra.
As musical styles progressed from jazz to bebop, so too did Williams’ talent. This Dizzy Gillespie hit, “In the Land of Oo-Bla-Dee,” was written by Williams.
In the 1960’s, Mary Lou Williams fused jazz with gospel and spiritual music, taking the classic George Gershwin Porgy and Bess track “It Ain’t Necessarily So” and bringing more soul to it than had been attached to the song in ages.
In fact, growing up you might have seen Mary Lou Williams performing on one of your favorite television shows, and never even realized it. Thank God we have YouTube for such things.
Okay. So now’s your opportunity. Once again, contact your local PBS station and ask them if and when they’re going to show the documentary Mary Lou Williams: The Lady Who Swings The Band. And if they don’t show it or they don’t have it on their schedule, tell them that you’re not contributing to their next fund drive until they DO show it. 🙂
Just sayin’ is all. You won’t be disappointed when you see the film.