In 1945 pianist, composer and arranger Mary Lou Williams debuted her first extended work, The Zodiac Suite, with musical movements for each sign of the zodiac. Williams was 35 years old, already a veteran of the swing era; she was playing regularly at New York City’s Café Society, hosting a weekly radio program, and had begun a fruitful recording relationship with Moe Asch’s label (which would eventually become Folkways). She was also at the center of a circle of emerging bebop greats that included Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell.
In the midst of this busy period Williams composed The Zodiac Suite, a series of modernistic sketches that were dedicated to various friends and fellow musicians. In addition to the recordings she made for Asch’s label, she also performed the work live on several occasions; we’ll hear excerpts from two of those, one a December 31, 1945 concert at New York City’s Town Hall, the other a 1957 appearance at Newport with Dizzy Gillespie’s big band. We’ll hear a number of the original Asch sides as well.