A quote from Mary Lou Williams from the book Hear Me Talkin’ to Ya: The Story of Jazz as Told by he Men Who Made It, by Nat Shaprio and Nat Hentoff
She sat cross-legged at the piano, a cigarette in her mouth, writing music with her right hand while accompanying the show with her left! Impressed, I told myself, “Mary, you’ll do that one day.” (And I did, traveling with Andy Kirk’s band in the ‘thirties on one-nighters.)
The lady turned out to be Lovie Austin, who was working with the pit band and making orchestrations. It so happened that she was behind time, and hurriedly arranging a number for one of the acts further down the bill.
In the music that I play, which is mostly folk or rock music, the performer is usually the arranger.
As I’ve been reading and listening to more Mary Lou Williams, and to more jazz in general, it’s been a pleasure to consider the arrangement of a piece, rather than just the tune.
Here’s a recording of the first song that Mary arranged for Andy Kirk and the Clouds of Joy. It’s called Mess-a-Stomp.
Tammy L Kernwood, author of Soul on Soul: The Life and Music of Mary Lou Williams, writes of the recording,
Mary enters with an unaccompanied piano solo that is a synthesis of the boogie-woogie and stride piano styles. Mary’s mastery of the stride style is prominent and she often punctuates the syncopated melodies played by the right hand with the heavy left-hand motives. This interaction between a strong swinging left hand and a melodically syncopated right hand is characteristic of Mary’s style.