Saturday, August 18, 2012

Virginia Mayhew honors Mary Lou Williams and Duke Ellington

Two Women in jazz - Mary Lou Williams and Virginia Mayhew
The Duke Ellington Legacy: Single Petal of a Rose
Hans Koert  

Recently two noticeable albums have been released: Mary Lou Williams - The Next 100 Years and Single Petal of a Rose by the Duke Ellington Legacy. Both albums have been recorded  by bands directed by the US tenor saxophone player Virginia Mayhew.
Mary Lou Williams - The Next 100 Years: Virginia Mayhew Quartet with special guest Wycliffe Gordon (Renma Recordings 6402cd) (design: Deb Lake)

At first sight the title of the album: MARY LOU WILLIAMS - THE NEXT 100 YEARS ( in Capitals) I have in hands, seems to be a reissue of recordings by the late Mary Lou Williams, due to the fact that she was born 100 years ago. A great black and white promo photo is framed at the cover. The second part of the title - The Next 100 Years takes the edge of it ....... and seems to be an impracticability, as Mary Lou Williams passed away more then 20 years ago. But let's take a closer look at the front cover which also reads the name of the Virginia Mayhew Quartet (With Special Guest Wycliffe Gordon).  This explains what we have in hands - an album by the Virginia Mayhew Quartet dedicated to the great piano player and composer: Mary Lou Williams ........
Virginia Mayhew (photo courtesy: Ullyses Beato)

 The Mary Lou Williams project: The Next 100 Years, was born in late 2009, Virginia Mayhew explains.
I was invited to play at the Women In Jazz festival, a festival in Washington dedicated to great women in jazz and we were brainstorming on what theme would fit best ...  Tony realized at some point, that Mary Lou Williams would have celebrated her centennial in May 2010 if she still should have been around .... Virginia and Tony got all support from Father Peter O' Brien, executor of the Mary Lou Williams estate, and they were allowed to research Mary Lou Williams original handwritten charts and arrangements ............ And to cut a long story short, the musical heritage was such a rich subject, that it would have been a shame to limit it to only one concert during the festival ......... In December 2010 the music of Mary Lou Williams was recorded and released in the US, spring 2011.  Now this album is international available: “Mary Lou Williams - The Next 100 Years".
 Virginia Mayhew (photo courtesy: George Kopp)

The Virginia Mayhew Quartet features Virgina Mayhew on tenor saxophone, Ed Cherry blues-tinged Dizzy-alum, as he is labeled, on the guitar, Harvie S on double bass and Andy Watson on drums. Special guest on this album is trombonist Wycliffe Gordon. Virginia is active in the New York jazz scene since 1987 and played with legends like the now almost forgotten Earl Fatha Hines, Cab Calloway, Frank Zappa and veteran trombonist Al Grey to list some who "left town" and some great contemporary jazz players like pianists  Toshiko Akiyoshi, Chico O' Farrill and Claudio Roditi, the Brazilian trumpet player, whose sound fascinates me .....
  For the Mary Lou Williams - The Next 100 Years project, Virigina selected ten tracks - eight tracks from the Mary Lou Williams musical legacy, like her 1946 recording Waltz Boogie, which was one of the first songs ever recorded in a non-duple meters and the great tune, What's Your Story Morning Glory, originally composed when she was part of the Andy Kirk Orchestra, but best remembered in a version at one of her last recordings, three years before she passed away, at the 1978 Montreux Jazz Festival. Virginia honors her in two own compositions, like For Mary Lou and 5 for Mary Lou, an outgrowth from Waltz Boogie in 5/4. 

 Enjoy a few fragment of some tunes played for the Mary Lou Williams project presented on the album as part of a live show at Rosy O Grady's:

The second album that was released by Renma Recordings is Single Petal of a Rose, by the Duke Ellington Legacy.  

Single Petal of a Rose - Duke Ellington Legacy with special guest Houston Person ( Renma Recordings 6403CD) ( Painting by Gaye Ellington, granddaughter of the Duke)

It's is great to learn how Virginia Mayhew regards the music as played by the great icons in jazz. She's the musical director of the Duke Ellington Legacy, a 9-piece band led by guitarist Edward Kennedy Ellington II, the grandson of the great bandleader.

Edward Kennedy Ellinngton II (photo courtesy: George Kopp)
He travelled with Duke and was the road manager of his father's band, the Mercer Ellington Orchestra, in fact Duke's band when he passed away in 1974. The Duke Ellington Legacy group wants to keep the musical legacy of the Duke alive and both Norman Simmons, who plays the piano and Virginia Mayhew made the arrangements ....  The title tune of the album, Single Petal of a Rose was originally recorded in 1958 by Duke Ellington and Jimmy Woode and was handed to the British Queen Elizabeth - Just one copy of this record exists ......

The Duke Ellington Legacy: f.l.t.r.: Jami Daubner - Paul Wells - Noah Bless - Tom DiCarlo - Norman Simmons - Edward Kennedy Ellington II - Nanvy Reed - Virginia Mayhew  (photo courtesy: Walter Karling)

 Simmons opens the album at the piano (Where's the bass player?) with that composition, originally dedicated to Duke's mother Evelyn. The album contains a dozen recordings originally known by the Duke Ellington orchestra, but also some composed by Norman Simmons, like Home Grown.  It's hard to point to the tracks that fascinated me most.  Maybe the solemn version of Blood Count with Noah Bless on trombone; or that Latin version of Johnny Come Lately featuring Paul Wells on drums and Sheila Earley on congas? I really liked to listen to the well known Ellington standards like Happy Go Luck Local, In My solitude, In A Mellow Tone or Lush Life, with guest player Houston Person - a few of the numerous standards that belong to the Duke Ellington repertoire.

 Houston Person ( at the Porgy en Bess Jazz Club in Terneuzen - The Netherlands (February 1998) ( photo courtesy: Hans Koert)

Isn't it great that Virginia Mayhew, fascinated by the jazz legacy of the XXth century, creates such great albums, honoring the legends of the past. Both albums should be in your cd-player. Find a copy at the her site of the one by Remma Recordings .....
Hans Koert
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Recently Virginia Mayhew released two albums, both dedicated to two icons in jazz: Mary Lou Williams and Duke Ellington. A few years ago Virginia Mayhew and her Quartet ( + Wycliffe Gordon as special guest) honored the great composter and piano player Mary Lou Williams who should have celebrated het centenial: The Next 100 Years, part of the title of the album, suggests that her music should be played for ever .... Virginia Mayhew is also the musical director of the Duke Ellington Legacy band, led by Duke's grandson. A tribute of Duke's music entitled: Single Petal of a Rose, you shouldn't miss.
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