Morning Glory: A Biography of Mary Lou Williams

Linda Dahl, Author Pantheon Books $30 (480p) ISBN 978-0-375-40899-1
In a time when the music of Harlem was beginning to stake a claim on the racially mixed Greenwich Village clientele, Williams, a young black pianist, trained her sights on a more classical venue. In 1947 she reached it, leading Carnegie Hall's New York Philharmonic in a boogie-woogie symphony of her own composition. Williams began her jazz career as a teenager accompanying orchestras ""by ear."" She soon taught herself to read and write music and gained a reputation as a masterful arranger. Her influence on the evolution of jazz spanned four decades from ragtime to bop, and can be heard in the works of jazz giants from Duke Ellington to Charlie Parker. Many musicians attribute her with genius, but lasting popular recognition has eluded her. Dahl's (Stormy Weather) narrative, while well researched, lacks the vibrancy needed to launch Williams to the fame she nearly obtained and so clearly deserves. Using a plethora of quotations, Dahl reconstructs Williams's evolution as a prodigy, a mystic, a bohemian and a religious convert, but she offers little insight into Williams's character: Dahl tells us that Williams was shy, but follows with stories of a very sassy nature; she announces that Williams's telepathic gift haunted her throughout her life, but offers scarce anecdotal evidence. Nonetheless, Dahl's comprehensive appendixes of discography, compositions and arrangements are a boon to jazz scholars, and despite its defects, this biography remains an important step toward recognizing the achievements of a remarkable woman. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 01/31/2000
Release date: 02/01/2000
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FORMATS
Paperback - 471 pages - 978-0-520-22872-6
Portable Document Format (PDF) - 471 pages - 978-0-520-92691-2
Open Ebook - 480 pages - 978-0-307-82452-3
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