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Morning Glory: a Biography of Mary Lou Williams

by Dahl, Linda

  • ISBN: 9780375408991
  • ISBN10: 0375408991

Morning Glory: a Biography of Mary Lou Williams

by Dahl, Linda

  • List Price: $30.00
  • Binding: Hardcover
  • Publisher: Pantheon Books
  • Publish date: 01/01/2009
  • ISBN: 9780375408991
  • ISBN10: 0375408991
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Description: Mary Lou Williams was one of the giants of jazz, yet her name is barely known outside the circles of jazz criticism. Most of the other famous women in jazz have been singers, like Billie Holiday. In contrast Williams was versatile -- a pianist, arranger, and composer -- and catholic in her tastes (in an uppercase sense as well). In this expansive and detailed biography, Linda Dahl restores Williams to her rightful place in the pantheon of jazz greats.

From the time Williams was a child, in the teens of this century, she had an innate sense both of the importance of her own talent and of the value of the African-American musical heritage. In a career that lasted more than half a century she succeeded, to an extraordinary degree -- and against great odds -- to demonstrate both.

Williams' childhood was rough and short, and she had to earn her own livelihood and help support her family when still very young. She began performing publicly at the age of 7, when she became known admiringly in her native Pittsburgh as "the little piano girl of East Liberty." She immediately bridged enormous social gaps, playing one day for the Mellons at bridge teas and at gambling dens where the hat was passed for change the next. She grew up with the jazz of the early part of the century, championed by the likes of Louis Armstrong, and yet contrary to many other musicians and critics she was open to new forms in jazz -- she was an early champion of bop -- and in broader musical styles as well (after her conversion to Catholicism, she wrote masses and other sacred music).

A phenomenal pianist ("She was an elusive pianist, a styleless pianist, " Popsy Whitaker noted admiringly in The New Yorker, "acatalyst, a refractor, a mirror."), over the years Williams played with scores of different artists. But it was as a composer and arranger that she is perhaps best known. She composed and/or arranged her own and others' music for, among others, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong, Tommy Dorsey, and the Sweethearts of Rhythm. Her compositions have been recorded by artists as varied as Marian McPartland, Dizzy Gillespie, Nat "King" Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Milt Jackson, Sarah Vaughan, Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Goodman, and The American Jazz Orchestra.

Linda Dahl was granted unprecedented access to the Williams Estate's collection of correspondence, reviews and notices, telegrams, photographs and other memorabilia. She has woven these, as well as testimony from other musicians, music industry insiders, and jazz historians and critics, into a striking portrait of one of the least known and undervalued musicians in the history of twentieth century popular music.

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8vo, 463 pages, Biography of Jazz pianist Mary Lou Williams.
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