Monday, January 9, 2012

“Roll ‘Em”

A happy Monday, folks!  We’re here at last with a much belated edition of the Monday Morning Blues, & coming at you once again with a piece of music that explores the intersection of blues & jazz.

Up to now this series has only explored songs from the “hot jazz” era of the 1920s.  While I love music from that era, I didn’t want the series to turn into a sort of “moldy figs” appreciation of traditional jazz to the exclusion of later developments in the music—both because I love later jazz as well, & also because there are some prime examples of blues meeting jazz from all points in jazz history, & even from some composers who have been considered quite radical.

Today’s song comes from one of the most talented composers & pianists in the history of jazz, tho sadly she is still all too often overlooked.  That is the great Mary Lou Williams, of whom Duke Ellington wrote:

Mary Lou Williams is perpetually contemporary. Her writing and performing have always been a little ahead throughout her career. Her music retains, and maintains, a standard of quality that is timeless. She is like soul on soul.

Mary Lou Williams began her performing career in the 1920s when she was still in her early teens, & at age 15 she was performing with Duke Ellington’s Washingtonians.  She made the claim—a true claim at that—that in her long career she played in “every era” of jazz, & in fact she composed & performed in the hot jazz era, thru the big band time & was an important tho frequently neglected figure in the development of be-bop.  Williams continued to be a significant force in the jazz world up to her death in 1981.

In addition to the fact that Mary Lou Williams was a masterful pianist, she was also a composer & arranger of note.  Her Zodiac Suite from the mid 1940s is a great extended composition, & she also composed a number of noteworthy songs, including today’s selection, “Roll ‘Em,” which she wrote in 1937 in response to Benny Goodman asking her to come up with a theme song for his band.  “Roll ‘Em” is a hard driving boogie, & the version we have today showcases Williams as a performer backed by the Benny Carter Orchestra.  In its basic structure, “Roll ‘Em” is a  12-bar blues, but it’s transfigured by Williams’ inventiveness & her powerful flow of musical ideas.

Hope you enjoy it!


  1. Ah! LOVE Mary Lou Williams. You know she was Monk's teacher, right? Absolutely great pianist. Thamks for bringing back some great memories.

  2. Hi Roy: Yes, I know of the Monk connection. As you no doubt know, she was not only a mentor to Monk but many of the "founding" boppers. A remarkable talent who has yet to be accorded her true position in jazz history.

  3. John, I'm picking this up on Tuesday, but it sounds great any day of the week!

  4. I've only known Mary Lou Williams' work slightly through her association with Ellington. Thanks for this great overview that will inspire me to learn more about her.

  5. Hi Martin & junkthief

    Martin: So glad you liked it!

    junkthief: You will be richly rewarded, I promise. Glad this inspired you, & thanks for stopping by!


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