The second of a two-part series.
From 1957 to 1960 I studied at the School of Jazz and worked at The Music Inn, a resort run by Phillip and Stephanie Barber in Lenox, Mass. My third year there Anita O’Day was hired to do a concert and Mary Lou was visiting faculty at the School of Jazz. After the concert, the two of them did a short, impromptu concert at the Inn, in a lounge area adjacent to the large dining room.
I’ve never heard Anita O’Day sing better. Mary Lou Williams was a divine accompanist. They definitely did “What’s Your Story Morning Glory,” “Night in Tunisia,” “Body and Soul,” and “I Can’t Get Started.”
The grand piano was in the corner of the room. Anita sang without a mic and Mary Lou was very subtle at the piano. I don’t recall Anita having a lot of volume in her voice but we could hear everything that both did. I remember how beautifully Mary Lou caressed the keyboard.
In the 1970s, Mary Lou had a residency at The Cookery, a very brightly lit, rather noisy, club on a corner on 8th Street near 5th Avenue. Although I have an ego, I’m sure friends will attest to the fact that I don’t often go up in play at someone else’s gig. However, one night Ms. Williams invited me to sit next to her at the piano and do a couple of pieces with her. There was a smattering of applause, but Barney Josephson, the manager, was furious. How could I do this to a jazz legend?
Mary Lou neither exonerated me nor criticized me. She gave me an earthy smile as if this was all I had to worry about in life. In an earlier encounter we had talked about my being humble but also gaining confidence and I thought this might be a test; her eyes never wavered.