Mary Lou Williams: In Touch With the Keys

Mary Lou Williams: It Ain’t Necessarily So
From Black Christ of the Andes (Saba, 1963)

Mary Lou Williams: Credo (Instrumental)
From Mary Lou’s Mass (Mary 1965)

I realized today that I am way, way, way behind in clawing through a stack of songs/artists I’ve been meaning to write about. Bad for me, hopefully good for you as I might try to pick up the pace (time permitting) and knock down a slew of posts over the next few weeks.

The Mary Lou hasn’t been on the backburner as long as others but I’m just really feeling these two songs so I’m bumping it up the queue for you.

Mary Lou Williams is arguably the finest female jazz pianist in history…good enough that perhaps we can leave off the “female” part and just acknowledge that her work has been exemplary. Not only was she a great player and composer but Williams was an entrepreneur at a time when there weren’t a ton of women running their own labels. Through her self-titled Mary imprint, she crafted an independent outlet for her own work, allowing her to experiment with concepts and themes that may not have been as well received elsewhere.

That’s how something like Mary Lou’s Mass was able to come together – less a jazz album that a meeting of African American cultural traditions bridging soul, jazz, the blues, spirituals and theater. It’s a heady album to be sure (and to me, always something reminiscent of what Melvin Van Peebles would do in the 1970s) and contains a whirlwind of different styles. “Credo” has been a favorite of mine though the version that I had, off 7″, did not appear on the original vinyl LP but it is a bonus song on this new CD version. As you can hear, it’s a very good funky jazz tune that keeps the sound and rhythm taut and tight rather than more “noodly” or fusion-esque. Makes for a great bonus song given how obscure the original 45 is.

Though on the Germany Saba label and not Mary, Black Christ Of the Andes is another conceptual mix of different directions, apparently the first album by Williams after 10 years off the performance circuit. As the title suggests, the album has some definitive Latin American influences to it but “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” is actually a sublime straight-ahead cut; very soulful and melancholy. I’ve owned Mary Lou’s Mass but never Black Christ so I had never heard this track before and was absolutely taken with it. Reminds me a little of the best cuts on Duke Pearson’s The Phantom or something of that caliber.