Mary Lou Williams remembers

A conversation with Peter O’Brien and Studs Terkel

The Great Lady of Jazz

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Born Mary Elfrieda Scruggs in Atlanta, Georgia on May 8th, 1910, and raised in Pittsburgh, pianist/arranger/composer Mary Lou Williams thrived in the rough and tumble jazz caldron of Kansas City in the 1930s. 

An esteemed arranger, Duke Ellington. Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman used her charts. 

In the 1940s, she came to New York City where she befriended and mentored the younger generation of musicians Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, and Tadd Dameron among others. 

Little known is the essential role she played in helping revive the jazz scene in the early 1970s when NYC was down to its last three jazz venues – all part-time.


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