Friday, June 15, 2012

VIRGINIA MAYHEW MAKES SMART CHOICES ON TRIBUTE TO MARY LOU WILLIAMS

Virginia, I wanted to write you after I listened to your new album “Mary Lou Williams The Next 100 Years,” but I’ve been busy listening to some upcoming jazz albums. Branford Marsalis has one coming in August titled “Four MFs Playin’ Tunes", and. “Spirit Fiction” by Ravi Coltrane will be available at the end of June. High Note Records sent me five of their new releases. My ears have been working overtime.

Right now, I’m listening to “This Time The Dream’s On Me,” a solo piano date by Larry Willis. Come to think of it, Willis style is like Mary Lou’s. Anyway, I won’t get into that. I’m not writing you to compare their playing.

I want to express my fondness for “Mary Lou Williams The Next 100 Years”. It's commendable that you honored her 2010 centennial. I wish the album had come out the same year. It would’ve heightened the celebration.

Unfortunately, her centennial didn't get all the hoopla and press Duke Ellington’s received. Mary Lou's impact on jazz was big as well. Mary Lou taught Bird, Dizzy, Monk, and many other jazz musicians of the be bop era how to play changes at a devilishly fast tempo. Of course, you’re familiar with that piece of Mary Lou’s story.

The person who wrote the press release compared you to sax players Dexter Gordon, and Sonny Rollins. No current sax player is that good I thought.

Honestly, Virginia, I didn’t hear any of Rollins’ in your playing, but your style is close to Gordon’s when he played soft tunes and mid-tempo ones. Also, like Gordon you have a civil engineers’ eye for details.

There’s not a careless moment on “Marry Lou William The Next 100 Years”. You took some risks that worked. The biggest was playing eight of Williams’ well-known songs without a piano player. You have to be an extraordinary jazz musician to play without a piano player. (Sonny Rollins told me so).

Your smartest decision was including trombone player Wycliffe Gordon. Gordon is the top trombone player of his generation. “On J.B.’s Waltz,” What’s Your Story Morning Glory,” and “Waltz Boogie,” you had a marital bond with him. Gordon has chops galore, and on “5 for Mary Lou,” I thought Gordon was playing three trombones at once. 

Virginia, I bet Mary Lou would love the album if she were around to hear it. Maybe Mary Lou has heard it. When you recorded it did you feel Mary Lou’s presence in the studio?

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