Night Lights Classic Jazz

Mary Lou Williams’ Zodiac Suite

Mary LouIn 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.

Music Heard On This Episode

Libra
Mary Lou Williams — Zodiac Suite (Asch/Folkways, 1945)
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Libra
Mary Lou Williams — Zodiac Suite (Asch/Folkways, 1945)
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Aquarius
Mary Lou Williams — The Zodiac Suite: Town Hall Concert (Jazz Classics, 1945)

Notes: Live performance with small jazz group and chamber orchestra.

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Aries
Mary Lou Williams — Zodiac Suite (Asch/Folkways, 1945)
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Taurus
Mary Lou Williams — Zodiac Suite (Asch/Folkways, 1945)
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Gemini
Mary Lou Williams — Zodiac Suite (Asch/Folkways, 1945)
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Cancer
Mary Lou Williams — The Zodiac Suite: Town Hall Concert (Jazz Classics, 1945)

Notes: Featuring tenor saxophonist Ben Webster.

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Leo
Mary Lou Williams — The Zodiac Suite: Town Hall Concert (Jazz Classics, 1945)

Notes: Live performance with small jazz group and chamber orchestra.

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Capricorn
Mary Lou Williams — The Zodiac Suite: Town Hall Concert (Asch/Folkways, 1945)

Notes: Live performance with small jazz group and chamber orchestra.

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Aries (alternate take)
Mary Lou Williams — Zodiac Suite (Asch/Folkways, 1945)

Notes: midpoint music bed.

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Sagittarius
Mary Lou Williams — Zodiac Suite (Asch/Folkways, 1945)
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Aquarius
Mary Lou Williams — Zodiac Suite (Asch/Folkways, 1945)
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Pisces
Mary Lou Williams — Zodiac Suite (Asch/Folkways, 1945)
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Libra
Mary Lou Williams — The Zodiac Suite: Town Hall Concert (Jazz Classics, 1945)

Notes: Live performance with small jazz group and chamber orchestra.

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Scorpio
Oscar Pettiford — Another One (Bethlehem, 1956)

Notes: Recording of a composition from Mary Lou Williams' ZODIAC SUITE.

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Zodiac Suite: Virgo/Libra/Aries
Dizzy Gillespie — At Newport (Verve, 1957)

Notes: With Mary Lou Williams as guest pianist.

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David Brent Johnson

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, David Brent Johnson moved to Bloomington in 1991. He is an alumnus of Indiana University, and began working with WFIU in 2002. Currently, David serves as jazz producer and systems coordinator at the station. His interests include literature, history, music, writing, and movies.

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