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Mary Lou Williams: Roll ‘Em

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On this 1944 transcription session for World Broadcasting, Milt Gabler caught Mary Lou Williams at her marvelous best, just before she was seduced by the charms of bebop. As with the era’s trumpet players, compressive jazz histories tend to overlook so many great pianistic talents, leaping from Johnson, Waller and Hines to Art Tatum, thence to indulge in the sour fruits of revolution as quickly as possible. Moving with the times is a musician’s privilege in jazz, but it is often the audience’s loss.

There are eight titles here, five alternative takes, several incomplete performances and two takes of a three-part medley of the pianist’s superior compositions. Backed unobtrusively by Al Lucas on bass and Jack “The Bear” Parker on drums, Mary Lou delivers with a firm, bright touch that completely defies use of any feminine adjective in a derogatory sense. As a former “band” pianist, she swings hard and authoritatively, not least on the blues and then-popular boogie-woogie. Her strong left hand accounts for wonderfully sonorous basses on her famous “Roll ‘Em.” There’s an unexpected treatment of an old favorite,”Marcheta,” and if you’re curious about “Yankee Doodle Blues,” wait for the coda! The recording quality is excellent.