The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra

Kenny Wheeler’s Sweet Sister Suite featuring Laura Jurd and The Music of Mary Lou Williams

The Queen's Hall Edinburgh review Sunday 22 April 2018

With Edinburgh Entertainment & Arts


The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra  at The Queen’s Hall Edinburgh featuring a double programme of jazz directed by Tommy Smith - Kenny Wheeler’s  “Sweet Sister Suite”  followed by “The Music of Mary Lou Williams”.  Two contrasting tributes to two great musical talents.

Our first performance, Kenny Wheeler’s” Sweet Sister Suite”  was one of the very first works commissioned by Tommy Smith for the very young and formative SNJO in 1997, and it is long overdue for a revival.  With parts for trumpet and voice alongside improvisational elements from other members of the SNJO, this is the perfect work to highlight the talents of two of the most promising emerging talents on the jazz/music scene at the moment – Laura Jurd (trumpet) and Irini Arabatzi (vocals).  Impressive and stylistic trumpet playing from Laura complemented by a display of vocal control and ability from Irini made this work a pleasure to listen to in its full uninterrupted eight suite collection.

Our second tribute tonight was to one of the most under-rated talents in 20th century Jazz (and general music ) history – Mary Lou Williams.  With a musical career spanning decades this writer, singer and arranger created an iconic style of her own, but also wrote and arranged music for globally accepted talents that included Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman in the list.  In any world of being recognised fairly for your talents and contributions to any art form, then the name Mary Lou Williams should be up there alongside the two aforementioned greats.  Sadly, this is not the case and, hopefully, this performance is the start of a movement to have the talents of Mary Lou Williams reconsidered by some and discovered by many more.

I have to admit myself that Mary Lou Williams was a name I had heard of, but knew very little about. I had associated her name with a few songs over the years, and “What’s Your Story, Morning Glory?” performed by Irini in this set was one of them.  Again, impressive vocals on this and “In the Land of OO-BLA-DEE” from Irini.

On piano for this set, Brian Kellock, and as always, a pleasure just to sit back and listen to him playing.   Also nice to hear the talents of Sebastiaan de Krom on drums  - standing in on this tour for Alyn Cosker who has other musical commitments to fill.  Some great solos from SNJO musicians too, including an extended sax solo from Konrad Wiszniewski.

The music of Mary Lou Williams is impossible to cover in any depth in the time allotted for the set here, but some carefully chosen pieces highlighted a taster of the enormous range and musical complexity of an extraordinary talent that somehow tapped into sources of inspiration that few ever manage to reach.

An interesting night, discovering music that I have somehow overlooked, and also watching on stage established musical talent and emerging music talent.

A little quote from Wikipedia may give an insight into the enormous, but not fully recognised, contribution of Mary Lou Williams to Jazz music

“Williams wrote and arranged for Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman, and she was friend, mentor, and teacher to Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Tadd Dameron, Bud Powell, and Dizzy Gillespie”.

Tommy Smith is on a bit of a self-imposed mission here to spread the words and music of Mary Lou Williams to as many people as possible, and here I would like to help him in that mission, so if any readers of this review are going to be involved in playing the music of Mary Lou Williams, get in touch and I will find you space on this website for some FREE PROMOTION.


Review by Tom King





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