Dizzy Gillespie (featuring Mary Lou Williams): Selections from Zodiac Suite


Selections from Zodiac Suite


Dizzy Gillespie (trumpet) and Mary Lou Williams (piano)


Dizzy Gillespie At Newport (Verve 000952402)

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Dizzy Gillespie (trumpet), Mary Lou Williams (piano),

Lee Morgan, Ermit V. Perry, Carl Warwick, Talib Ahmad Dawud (trumpets), Melba Liston, Al Grey, Ray Connors (trombones), Jimmy Powell, Ernie Henry (alto saxes), Billy Mitchell, Benny Golson (tenor saxes), Pee Wee Moore (baritone sax), Paul West (bass), Charlie Persip (drums)


Composed by Mary Lou Williams. Arranged by Melba Liston


Recorded: live at the Newport Jazz Festival, Newport, RI, July 6, 1957


Rating: 87/100 (learn more)

Zodiac Suite was the first of many long-form compositions Mary Lou Williams produced during her lengthy and distinguished career. By its 1945 premiere at New York's Town Hall, however, Williams had finished just three of Zodiac's projected 12 parts, each intended as a tonal portrait of her musician friends born under that respective sign. The under-rehearsed and poorly attended concert left Mary Lou traumatized, but the event nonetheless transformed her reputation from, as she herself noted, "Boogie Woogie Queen" to "musicians' musician."

Twelve years later, having essentially retired from public performance, the introspective perfectionist had to be coaxed by Dizzy Gillespie to appear with him at the Newport Jazz Festival—for a more musicianly than queenly fee of $300.

In these three selections, arranged by trombonist Melba Liston, an upbeat "Virgo" (The Virgin) depicts "more intellectual than emotional personalities" among Williams's circle. "Libra" (The Scale) honors such well-balanced lovers of art and beauty as her fellow pianists Tatum, Monk and Powell, plus Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. (The idea that Monk, Powell and Parker might be considered well balanced speaks volumes about astrology.) "Aires" (The Ram) signifies "moody pioneers" Billie Holiday and Ben Webster.

This live recording is a mixed bag. Gillespie's overlong spoken and ultimately instrumental introduction consumes nearly 2½ minutes of a 10½-minute track. Once Zodiac Suite finally begins, its sole soloist Miss Williams sounds not the least rusty after her long absence from the stage. But the Newport piano is not as well tuned as it could've been, and the overall audio quality is less than ideal, even by 1957 standards. Moreover, as with most Dizzy Gillespie-led big bands, loudness is equated with macho conquest. Even so, this signaled a comeback of sorts for Mary Lou Williams, and everyone involved must be commended.

Thanks to what astronomers call "precession of the equinoxes," the 12 zodiacal signs in Western astrology no longer correspond to the original celestial coordinates of their constellations, meaning any link between a sign and its presumed divinatory functions is hogwash. Fortunately, you don't have to subscribe to the horoscope to appreciate Zodiac Suite.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz

If you liked this track, also check out

Dizzy Gillespie & Charlie Parker: Salt Peanuts
Dizzy Gillespie: Grovvin’ High
Mary Lou Williams: Clean Pickin'

Related Links

The Dozens: Twelve Classic Dizzy Gillespie Performances by Mark Lomanno
John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie (encyclopedia article) by Mark Lommano

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