Unless I was talking about a specific artist I would normally use gender neutral language when discussing Jazz musicians. This is because there has been a few under-valued but brilliant women in the revolutionary advance guard of this music. I will however confess my reasons for using this title later in the piece and the clue is the ‘jasmine revoution’.
When I think of jazz women I think of Mary Lou Williams, because she was there from the near beginnings of jazz. She often managed to reach into the future; landing at the forefront of the next ‘hot’ style, just as it officially arrived and quite a few Jazz icons such as Monk and Dizzy benefitted from her brilliant tuition. She was a stride to swing musician who assisted at the birth of BeBop. Like a will-o-the-wisp she moved to hardbop and even free jazz. Many jazz pianists born well before the swing-era played piano with an unmistakably bluesy style and she was no exception. this was not blues at the cross-roads; a deal with the devil delta-blues. This was the voice of the soul of her people and perhaps the soul of all mankind. She proved her soulfullness in many ways, by teaching and helping out-of-work musicians; running a soup kitchen in Harlem.
I fell in love with the big chords she used, which contained a lot more humanity, than those used by the merely technically-proficent. She had started playing organ as a toddler on her mothers knee, because her mother was an organist in the ‘sanctified church’. Her small hands would evidently reach up and search for the chords. By the 1920’s she was recording and later went on to make some famous swing era big bands look good. She was a great arranger/composer and her charts were utilised by the ‘King of Swing’ Benny Goodman. She was ‘the girl that swung the band’ for Andy Kirk’s, ‘Clouds of Joy’ and in the end a big band leader in her own right. She wrote complex orchestral works which are still performed today, but mostly she was an innovative and utterly engaging pianist.
Mary Lou played in hundreds of small clubs and in the big halls of Europe where they adored her. She always pleased the fans. She was a striking looking woman when younger, but as old age advanced you could see the pain she often experienced mirrored in her face.
Now there are dozens of truly great female jazz instrumentalists and most will tell you that Mary Lou is their role model. Why this post and this title? Firstly because I love Mary Lou Williams and promote her whenever I can. The second reason is a bloggers reason; choose a title that has a topical but not too topical phrase in it. The Jasmine Revolution will bring me a few dozen extra hits and who knows. After wondering why they got here, they might sample some jazz.
Best compositions : ‘Scratchin in the gravel’, ‘What’s the story morning glory’