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This 20-song collection provides an overview of Mary Lou Williams’ breakout years as the star of Andy Kirk’s big band The Twelve Clouds of Joy. While Williams was the band's pianist, her dominant talent was for writing and arranging. The partnership between Kirk and Williams was mutually beneficial. Kirk taught Williams notation and the rules of music theory, and in return Williams gave the band creative arrangements that toyed with those rules. Like Duke Ellington, she adhered to the fundamental rhythms of dance music but always threw in small tricks and intricate designs that separated her songs from hundreds of others. Sometimes it's an unexpected shift in rhythm or an unusual combination of instruments. In a Williams arrangement, a clarinet or trombone is as likely to take the lead as a tenor saxophone (the primary solo instrument of Kansas City swing). Other times, as on “Twinklin’," the band holds back entirely, putting the spotlight wholly on Williams’ piano. Even in the big band setting, where every instrument vies for space, her steadfast but magical piano playing was a signature that distinguished The Twelve Clouds of Joy from all others.


Born: May 8, 1910 in Atlanta, GA

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '20s, '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s

To say that Mary Lou Williams had a long and productive career is an understatement. Although for decades she was often called jazz's greatest female musician (and one has to admire what must have been a nonstop battle against sexism), she would have been considered a major artist no matter what her sex. Just the fact that Williams and Duke Ellington were virtually the only stride pianists to modernize their style through the years would have been enough to guarantee her a place in jazz history...
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1930-1941, Mary Lou Williams
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