Jazz helped Mary Lou Williams stay alive — but after several draining decades as a musician, she quit the scene. When she returned, she claimed her true power as one of jazz's fiercest advocates.
If she was even partly as prolific as she says she was — claiming hundreds of arrangements a year — pianist Mary Lou Williams had an indelible impact on the sound of the swing era's dance bands.
Mary Lou Williams was a groundbreaking composer, arranger, performer and mentor who was known as "the lady who swings the band."
By the age of 15, Mary Lou Williams was a full-time working musician. Jazz kept her alive, but also exhausted her to the point of retreat. When she returned, she claimed her true power as one of jazz's fiercest advocates.
Mary Lou Williams began arranging in 1929; by 1942, she was among the most renowned arrangers in the business. How Mary Lou Williams shaped the sound of the big-band era:
Mary Lou Williams was a musical prodigy from a young age, with no formal training. With more than 100 recordings to her credit, Williams wrote music for legendary bandleaders including Duke Ellington. and she was a teacher to jazz great Thelonious Monk. #JazzAppreciationMonth
For her long, endlessly inventive and astonishing career, Mary Lou Williams belongs at the center of our canon.
The illustrated story of jazz pianist Mary Lou Williams, a pioneering woman of color