Tag Archives: two pianos

MARY LOU WILLIAMS and JOHN LEWIS IN DUET at the NICE JAZZ FESTIVAL (Grande Parade du Jazz, July 12, 1978)

John Lewis and Mary Lou Williams certainly knew and admired each other, but this is the only documented evidence I know of them in performance.  They were strong personalities, born only a decade apart, spiritually connected.  I hear two artists with expansive imaginations, their improvisations based in the blues and always showing deep respect for melody and swing.  Her playing is percussive; his, much more assertive than his work with the Modern Jazz Quartet — but it’s a dialogue, not a tussle.

The recording of this set — happily longer than thirty minutes — begins with the television crew and sound people setting up — you can  hear Mary Lou asking, “Aren’t they ready yet?”  Then the two pianists embark on deep explorations of the most familiar territory, making it vivid at every turn: I’LL REMEMBER APRIL / BODY AND SOUL / BLUES / THE MAN I LOVE / COTTON TAIL.

Let no one say that the standard repertoire is exhausted.  I feel this concert doesn’t require annotation.  It does inspire reverence.

May your happiness increase!


The music you are about to experience was created on the spot at JazzAge Monterey’s 2014 Jazz Bash by the Bay — by two of the most expansive improvisers I know: expansive in the sense of imagination and feeling and play. Together and singly,they have  the years of experience that allow them to envision something musical and give it physical shape at the keyboard so that we can rejoice in it.

Exquisitely dancing at the piano, they offer us a magical balance of power and control, abandon and exactness. I do not exaggerate when I speak of Ray Skjelbred and Carl Sonny Leyland, wizards of sound. Here are four more selections from their hour-long offering.



FAN IT (always good advice!) then OH, BABY!:

You’ll notice a few things. One is how the two deep individualists here blend their singular styles so that their individual selves are never obscured, but they pool their efforts for the larger community of four hands and two keyboards.  Two is that the chosen repertoire bounces back and forth between romping tunes — pop or blues — and deep dark sad mournful utterances . . . covering the whole emotional range, whether evoking Alex Hill, the Chicagoans, Jelly Roll Morton, or Frankie “Half-Pint” Jaxon, the last a name and presence to be reckoned with.

Finally, a cinematographic comment. I wanted to be as close to the pianos as possible for the clearest sound, but even with my wide-angle lens, I had to pan back and forth, which means that at times one can’t see what Ray is doing while Carl is playing, and vice versa.  Sorry about this . . . to be deeper in to the auditorium would give me more muddy sound and (I fear) a bad case of head-in-the-way. I have been listening to these videos through headphones — no picture — and find them particularly entrancing.

My previous posting of the final song of the set, I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU, can be found here.

Blessings on people who get deep in to the blues and who can romp ecstatically: Ray Skjlebred and Carl Sonny Leyland are two noble souls of those realms.