mercredi 24 novembre 2010

Mary Lou Williams

I've discovered the Zodiac Suite, by the great pianist, composer an arranger Mary Lou Williams. Written in 1945, the suite contains 12 parts corresponding to a sign of the zodiac and to musicians born under that sign. The suite was recorded in trio format, then played in concert with a big band (Ben Webster was guest soloist) and with an orchestra.
The trio format is fascinating. The music is very avant-garde, sounding like the 1950's third stream ; the harmonies are very modern for 1945 ; tempo changes all the time, alternating between a tempo and rubato
Finally, I've managed to transcribe the entire Suite! It took me six years of very non consistent work… There might be some minor mistakes in my transcription, due to poor recording quality : some voicings are really hard to recognise, as you can't really hear some of the notes…

1. Aries (dedicated to Ben Webster and Billie Holiday)
The tune starts with a nice swing theme, in the cycle of fifths. The you have some cool call and response with piano and bass, and an improvisation on a Db7 ostinato. The ending shows a very quiet tone (Bm/Cm), then some big chords on a C pedal.

2. Taurus (dedicated to Duke Ellington, Ellis Larkins and Mary Lou Williams herself)
There's almost no improvisation in this tune in trio format – but it's still jazz to me :) Check the great b9 chords you can see in measures 14 or 34, and the nice sounding 13h chords meas. 31 !

3. Gemini (dedicated to Benny Goodman, Harold « Shorty » Baker (then Williams' husband) and Miles Davis)
Here a more playful one. It begins with two bass lines : a descending Dm arpeggio overlapping an ascending CM arpegio. I love the way Williams plays with the melody (a simple CM scale in thirds), adding a note each time it's repeated. Then there's some boogie woogie !

4. Cancer (dedicated to Lem Davis)
Another one without improvisation. It's a duet with bassist Al Lucas, with a beautiful dark and sad theme in Ebm. I love the chords played at the end of the theme (mes 4 to 6, for example).
Measure 23, the theme is played in tempo with the bass.

5. Leo (dedicated to Vic Dickenson)
This tune is a kind of march, with a middle section with wide chords.

6. Virgo (dedicated to Leonard Feather)
Lead sheet version
This tune swings a lot (sometimes it even looks like early bebop). Written parts alternate with "classic" improvised ones, so I decided to make a leadsheet (well, a simpler version of the score) so you can have fun with it !
Have you seen the wonderful ending chords ?

7. Libra (dedicated to the "dearest friends, Dizzy, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Monk)
A solo piano song, with a lot going on. It's hard to tell how much it's written, how much it's improvised. I love the Scriabin-like part meas. 41.
I've indicated the new sections by a doubled bar line, you can pause a little there.

8. Scorpio (dedicated to Imogene Coca, Ethel Waters, Katherine Dunham, Al Parker)
This one demonstrates, once again, ML Williams' talent for basslines. When listenning to the alternate take, you can heart that most of this is written.

9. Sagittarius (dedicated to Eddie Heywood)
Isn't this incredibly beautify? This short piece totally fulfills my love for harmony, another one of my favorites in the Suite.

10. Capricorn (dedicated to Frankie Newton)
Be prepared, lots of chords in here!

11. Aquarius (dedicated to Franklin D. Roosevelt, Josh White, Eartha Kitt)
I love this tune and the rhythmic strengh Mary Lou has! Sounds like a dance but I can't figure out any genre, I you have any idea…
From bar 85 she goes into a dotted/triplet vibe that results in these strange time signatures. This seems to be the best way to write it, but don't be afraid, it's easier to play than you may think!
What a pity that the recording quality is so bad, I'm not sure I've heard all of the right notes…

12. Pisces (dedicated to Al Hall, Phil Moore, Barney Josephson)
At last, the last piece of Mary Lou Williams' Zodiac Suite ! It begins with a chromatic theme in thirds with a Bb pedal at the right hand, that alternates with a kind of chromatic waltz with the big chords Mary Lou loves.


Other tunes :
Fifth dimension
This one is a blues, based in the first section on a great riff (MLW has a gift for great bass lines). The next section is more common; I had trouble transcribing the left hand, as it's nearly inaudible, but I'm sure you can fill the blanks by yourself :)

Mary's Special
Some nive harmonies, a cool melody, some stride… Everything we need !

6 commentaires:

  1. Thank you thank you for doing this! I am leading a college ensemble class, but mostly on Zoom, and we are taking some of these and analyzing them and creating some new interpretations. The players have classical or rock or producing backgrounds, very little jazz. But they love them too. A big help --I owe you a nice glass of wine! --all the best -- tom varner, seattle washington, usa.

    1. Hi, Tom, glad you like it, and vrery pleased you play these tunes ! They are really worth it, and too little known :)

  2. Wow... Nice job .. I love this piece! I,m trying to transcribe it too, but some parts are so difficult to recognice to me. Thank,s for sharing

  3. Thank you for this wonderful job! I'm currently working on Pisces, but it's really difficult! Have you transcribe it already? :O