Andy Kirk and his band, the Clouds of Joy, was one of the most popular swing orchestras in the mid-30s and 40s. A lot of the credit must be given to the work of Mary Lou Williams,who played piano, wrote most of the arrangements and contributed many original compositions. Her originality is showcased on this compilation, which presents some of the bands best sides.
While the majority of jazz musicians have been male, the presence of a woman in a jazz band was not very usual within the history of the genre - especially in the early decades. The case of Mary Lou Williams is unique, for she helped to build the spirit and success of Andy Kirks orchestra not as a singer, but as an instrumentalist, arranger and composer. Previously known only as Mary, Williams took the name "Mary Lou" at the suggestion of record producer Jack Kapp.
Her first solo records gained her recognition and she soon signed on as Kirk's permanent second pianist, playing solo gigs and working as a freelance arranger for such noteworthy names as Earl Hines, Benny Goodman, and Tommy Dorsey. Williams had become one of the most sought-after composers of the Swing Era.
Attention must be paid to three main elements of the impressive sides selected on this CD. One of them is, obviously, Mary Lou Williams the piano soloist, who is heard extensively both soloing and backing other instrumentalists or vocalists. Her style, albeit with strong individual lines, also shows the influence of Earl Hines and Teddy Wilson. The second aspect worth mentioning is tenor saxophonist Dick Wilsons playing.
A distinctive voice more related to that of Chu Berry than to those of Coleman Hawkins or Lester Young, he was to die of tuberculosis in 1941, when he was only 30-years old. The third element is, of course, the band itself as a cohesive unit playing Mary Lous compositions and arrangements.
01. WALKIN AND SWINGIN (2:40)
02. MOTEN SWING (3:05)
03. FROGGY BOTTOM (3:10)
04. BEARCAT SHUFFLE (3:00)
05. PUDDIN HEAD SERENADE (2:33)
06. THE LADY WHO SWINGS THE BAND (2:43)
07. KEEP IT IN THE GROOVE (3:02)
08. A MELLOW BIT OF RHYTHM (3:19)
09. BEAR DOWN (2:59)
10. TWINKLIN (3:05)
11. MESS-A-STOMP (3:06)
12. WHATS YOUR STORY, MORNING GLORY? (3:07)
13. MARYS IDEA (2:58)
14. CLOSE TO FIVE (2:52)
15. SCRATCHIN IN THE GRAVEL (3:07)
16. THE COUNT (3:07)
17. TWELFTH STREET RAG (2:54)
18. BABY BEAR (2:49)
19. HARMONY BLUES (2:48)
20. RING DEM BELLS (2:45)
21. CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS (2:44)
22. SKIES ARE BLUE (3:03)
23. I WONT TELL A SOUL (I LOVE YOU) (3:16)
24. FLOYDS GUITAR BLUES (3:12)
25. WHAM RE BOP BOOM BAM (3:05)
Total time: 74:42 min.
All tracks recorded in New York, 1936-1941.
Andy Kirk and His Clouds of Joy, with Mary Lou Williams (piano on all tracks), and featuring Don Byas, Harold 'Shorty' Baker, Rudy Powell, Dick Wilson and Floyd Smith.
All arrangements by Mary Lou Williams except 5 (Clyde Hart) and 9 (Earl Thompson).
"This album gave listeners a good sampling of the Kansas City swing music of Andy Kirk's Twelve Clouds of Joy. The 25 selections contain many fun titles, including "Christopher Columbus," "A Mellow Bit of Rhythm," and the title cut. Among the soloists are pianist Mary Lou Williams (who arranged the majority of the numbers), the underrated tenor Dick Wilson, trombonist Ted Donnelly and clarinetist John Harrington."
Scott Yanow -All Music Guide