Dave Ratcliffe Piano

About Recordings  Teaching 
Music Mary Lou Williams    Contact

In the early 70s, when I wanted to learn a piece of music, I worked out songs by ear (including The Beatles’ Lady Madonna and Martha My Dear) memorizing them as I went along.

In 1976-77 at Berklee College of Music, I took a class learning to sight-sing melodies where we were taught to conduct 4/4, 3/4 or 2/4 meter while simultaneously singing the solfège syllable (do, re, mi) and the duration of each note. From this practice I acquired skill in writing music notation that has deepened my appreciation and understanding of what I was hearing in recordings.

Song Title Pianist/Composer Album (CD) Title Year
Freedie Freeloader     Wynton Kelly solo Kind of Blue 1959
Dirge Blues Mary Lou Williams     My Mama Pinned a Rose on Me 1977
Dirge Blues Mary Lou Williams Mary Lou Williams Presents
(Black Christ of the Andes)
No Title Blues Mary Lou Williams My Mama Pinned a Rose on Me 1977
J.B.’s Waltz Mary Lou Williams My Mama Pinned a Rose on Me 1977
Blues For Peter Mary Lou Williams My Mama Pinned a Rose on Me 1977
Baby Man Mary Lou Williams Free Spirits 1975
‘Round Midnight Thelonious Monk Thelonious Monk - The Composer 1968
Special #1 Meade Lux Lewis n/a n/a
Six and Four Oliver Nelson Straight Ahead,
Oliver Nelson with Eric Dolphy
Syl-o-gism Mary Lou Williams Zoning 1974
Relaxin’ Willie "The Lion" Smith      Lucky & The Lion: Harlem Piano 1958
Pannonica Thelonious Monk Thelonious Alone in San Francisco   1959
Prelude No. 4 Var John Lewis The Bridge Game, Vol II 1985
Prelude No. 5 Var John Lewis The Bridge Game, Vol II 1985
Fugue No. 10 Var John Lewis The Bridge Game, Vol III 1988
Rosa Mae Mary Lou Williams Mary Lou Williams, Zoning 1974
Easy Blues Mary Lou Williams The First Lady of Piano 1955
Tin Tin Deo Oscar Peterson Action 1964
Hesitation Boogie Mary Lou Williams Victor 40-4043 1946
Prelude No. 16 Var John Lewis The Bridge Game, Vol II 1985
Abide With Me Thelonious Monk Monk’s Music 1957
Crepuscule With Nellie Thelonious Monk Monk’s Music 1957

In Front + Lalene Keith Jarrett Facing You 1971

The Quarrel, Vivace Sergei Prokofiev ...Sonatas + “Cinderella” Pieces... 1971
Wynton Kelly: “Freddie Freeloader
From: Kind of Blue, by Miles Davis, 2 March 1959. LP: Columbia CL 1355, or CS 8163; CD: Columbia Legacy CK 64935, or Sony Mastersound (J) SRCS 9104.
I left Berklee after one year and moved to New Haven, Connecticut, where I began transcribing segments of piano recordings I wanted to learn. One of the first was Wynton Kelly’s four-chorus solo on “Freddie Freeloader” from Miles Davis’ quintessential album, Kind of Blue. I originally transcribed “Freddie Freeloader” in the key of B. Decades later, I learned about the actual key from Bill Evans: How My Heart Sings by Peter Pettinger (Yale University Press, 1998) where a segment of the liner notes from the Kind of Blue 1992 MasterSound edition is quoted on page 84:
Columbia’s recording policy at that time was to run two tape machines simultaneously, a master and a safety. At the March 2 sessions, the master machine was running slow, so that when the tapes were played back at the correct speed, the music was slightly faster — sharper — than the April 6 session. Over the years, many musicians have noticed that the first side of Kind of Blue — “So What,” “Freddie Freeloader,” and “Blue in Green” — is about a quarter-tone sharp, and wondered what Miles could have had in mind. According to Teo Macero, the speed change was not intentional, and it is corrected here for the first time, using the safety tapes. (Amy Herot, liner note to Kind of Blue, MasterSound Edition, Columbia CK 64403, 1992)

As the pitch was between B flat and B on the Columbia LP I worked from in 1977, I guessed the key was B. For this score, image files are included for both pages of the original key of B transcription as well as PDF of the correct score in B flat.

Key of B:
Key of B flat:

Mary Lou Williams: “Dirge Blues
From: My Mama Pinned A Rose On Me, by Mary Lou Williams, New York City, 27 December 1977. LP: Pablo 2310819; CD: Pablo OJCCD-1108-2 (2310819).
This is the opening of the 1977 version I transcribed in 1979 with guidance from Mary Lou Williams’ letter to me, responding to a letter I had written her asking what the meter should be of this song.
From: Mary Lou Williams Presents (Black Christ of the Andes), October/November 1963. LP: Mary Records, M 101 (Released by Folkways Records as FJ 2843); CD: Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, SFW CD 40816.
Following the introduction, this earlier version of “Dirge Blues” presents an alternative representation to the above based on the 19 November 1963 recording included on the album, Mary Lou Williams Presents — Black Christ of the Andes. Here the triplets are written as eighth notes (instead of quarters) and the time is straight 4/4 (instead of alternating between 6/4 and 4/4).

Mary Lou Williams: “No Title Blues
From: My Mama Pinned A Rose On Me, by Mary Lou Williams, New York City, 27 December 1977. LP: Pablo 2310819; CD: Pablo OJCCD-1108-2 (2310819).
No Title Blues is one of my favorite works from My Mama Pinned a Rose on Me. I transcribed this while studying with Mary Lou in 1979. Her left-hand chord patterns taught me a great deal about substitution and comping that has significantly influenced and extended my own style. The first half is in F. After Buster Williams’ bass solo, it modulates to B-flat.

Mary Lou Williams: “J.B.’s Waltz
From: My Mama Pinned A Rose On Me, by Mary Lou Williams, New York City, 27 December 1977. LP: Pablo 2310819; CD: Pablo OJCCD-1108-2 (2310819).
J.B.’s Waltz is another work from My Mama Pinned a Rose on Me. I love how the recording’s waltz feel combines the feel of both three and two with motif of dotted quarter notes predominating throughout the song in the left hand. I had originally written this out by hand in 1980. I was pleased to finally, as of August 2007, present the complete transcription of this work on my website.

Mary Lou Williams: “Blues For Peter
From: My Mama Pinned A Rose On Me, by Mary Lou Williams, New York City, 27 December 1977. LP: Pablo 2310819; CD: Pablo OJCCD-1108-2 (2310819).
Another gorgeous song, Blues For Peter is also from My Mama Pinned a Rose On Me. I love its swinging, funky waltz feel.

Mary Lou Williams: “Baby Man
From: Free Spirits, by Mary Lou Williams, 8 July 1975. LP: Inner City Records, IC 2043; CD: SteepleChase Productions, SCCD-31043 (Klampenborg, Denmark).
John Stubblefield composed this song and Mary Lou recorded it on her 1975 Free Spirits album. Her pensive and expressive treatment of the melody in the opening bars is filled with beauty and grace.

Thelonious Monk: “’Round Midnight
From Thelonious Monk, piano, Hollywood, California, 19 November 1968. LP: Greatest Hits, Columbia CS 9775; CD: Thelonious Monk — The Composer, Columbia CK44292.
With chords:
’Round Midnight was one of the first recordings I explored when beginning to listen to jazz piano in the mid-70s. Transcribed in the late 80s, it is one of the most harmonically rich works I had ever put to paper. Two copies are included here: one with the chord progression and one without. The chord-less copy is for students to analyze for their own study. I’d like to thank Adam Larrabee, with whom I studied in 2004, for assistance with the chord analysis on pages one, two and four.
Without chords:

Meade Lux Lewis: “Special #1
I especially love this 12-bar chorus of Meade Lux Lewis’ composition with its funky triplets bass line and the rich arpeggiated 9th chords rolled out in the right hand.

Oliver Nelson: “Six and Four
Recorded in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey; March 1, 1961. LP: Images, Prestige P-24060; CD: Straight Ahead, Oliver Nelson with Eric Dolphy, Prestige, New Jazz OJCCD-099-2 (NJ-8255).
I've always loved this 6/4 tune with its compelling bass line and melodic phrase that diverges into double note harmony per measure.

Mary Lou Williams: “Syl-o-gism
From: Zoning, by Mary Lou Williams, CD: Smithsonian Folkways SF CD 40811, 1995.
Syl-o-gism (recorded but not included on the 1974 Zoning LP) was first released on the 1995 Smithsonian Folkways CD. Its 16-bar structure is imbued with Mary Lou‘s unique sense of rhythmic, bluesy feel.

Willie "The Lion" Smith: “Relaxin'
From: Lucky & The Lion: Harlem Piano; Solos by Luckey Roberts & Willie “The Lion” Smith, Recorded in New York City, March 18, 1958. CD: Good Time Jazz GTJCD-10035-2. EMI Feist Catalog, Inc. - ASCAP
James P. Johnson and Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith were the two mentors of Thomas “Fats” Waller. Regarding Relaxin’, The Lion said, “I wanted to show that you could get a blues feeling without hitting people on the head.” Transcribed in 1980 after studying with Mary Lou Williams, I love the way the piece sings and moves through its different parts. A slower tempo by yours truly was recorded in late 2021.

Thelonious Monk: “Pannonica
Loose transcription based on the recording made October 21/22 1959, from Thelonious Monk: Alone in San Francisco, CD: Riverside RLP-1158 OJCCD-231-2.
With chords:
This progression sings with Monk’s unique sense of bass and chord movement. The transcription is a rough approximation to what he expresses in the first chorus of the recording.
Without chords:

John Lewis: “Prelude No.4 Variation
From: John Lewis Vol. 2, The Bridge Game, based on J.S. Bach, “Well-Tempered Clavier” Book I, Prelude No. 4 in C# Minor, Variation: Two Clubs. Recorded in New York City, January/October 1985. CD: Philips 826-698-2.
When hearing the first volume of The Bridge Game in the late 1980s, I gave in and bought my first Compact Disc and CD player. John Lewis trundled two of his grand pianos into churches in New York City for the acoustics and eventually recorded all of Book I of the Well-Tempered Clavier. Mr. Lewis merged Bach’s sense of musical harmony and structure with that of what manifested in music during the 20th century.
John Lewis had a passion for contract bridge which gave title to the second volume of these recordings. In this approach to Prelude 4, he plays the score up through measure 34 and then goes into his Two Clubs variation Measures 33 and 34 are:
At the close of his variation, he returns to the score at measure 25. Measures 25-26 are:

John Lewis: “Prelude No.5 Variation
From: John Lewis Vol. 2, The Bridge Game, based on J.S. Bach, “Well-Tempered Clavier” Book I, Prelude No.5 in D Major, Variation: One Spade (Tears From The Children). Recorded in New York City, January/October 1985. CD: Philips 826-698-2.
John Lewis plays the score through measure 26 and steps into his One Spade variation. Measures 25 and 26 are:
At the close, he re-enters the score at measure 27. Measures 27-28 are:

John Lewis: “Fugue No.10 Variation
From: John Lewis Vol. 3, J.S.BACH PRELUDES AND FUGUES from The Well-Tempered Clavier BOOK 1, based on J.S. Bach, “Well-Tempered Clavier” Book I, Fugue No. 10 in E Minor, Variation: Elliot’s Convention. Recorded in New York City, August 1988. CD: Philips 836-821-2.
John Lewis plays the score through measure 14, then continues to his Elliot’s Convention variation. Measures 13 and 14 are:
At the close of his variation, he comes back into the score at measure 11. Measures 11-12 are:

Mary Lou Williams: “Rosa Mae
From: Zoning, by Mary Lou Williams, 17 January 1974. Mary Records M103; CD: Smithsonian Folkways SF CD 40811, 1995.
When I first posted Rosa Mae, it was May 8, 2010, the one-hundredth anniversary of Mary Lou Williams’ birth. While studying with her, Mary Lou told me that in 1974, she and Larry Gales wrote Rosa Mae with a rock beat in the bass line to interest kids in jazz music. It’s her bluesy jazz feeling that imbues this piece, as in all her music, with an inimitable sound that is uniquely hers.

I wrote the original transcription of Rosa Mae in New Haven, Connecticut in 1978 and sent a copy of it to Mary Lou in a letter I wrote after seeing her in the Garden Room Restaurant of Abraham & Strauss (a department store) in New York City in early 1979.

In 2010 I began to convert the original by-hand transcription into the print-ready copy included here. During this process, I discovered some differences with the notation I wrote out in 1978 and what I hear in the recording in the present time. In my experience, transcribing is always only an approximation to the original recording. My desire has always been to learn to play a version of the recording that is as close to the original as possible.

In making these transcriptions available on the net, I am engaged in a process of sending a message to the future. In my early twenties, there were no music transcriptions like this that were available to study and learn from. At that time I remember wishing there were. Mary Lou wanted young people to be exposed to riches of the unique American art form known as jazz, or, as Duke Ellington explained, “we stopped using the word in 1943, and we much prefer to call it the American Idiom, or the Music of Freedom of Expression.” In making these transcriptions available, it is my hope to assist in transmitting the messages of love and healing (Mary Lou’s words) to future generations to study and learn from.

Mary Lou Williams: “Easy Blues
From: MARY LOU WILLIAMS THE FIRST LADY OF PIANO NEW-YORK 1955, March 8 & 10 1955, JAZZ Anthology / Musidisc (F) 30 JA 5187.
Another quintessential blues played in Mary Lou Williams’ inimitable style. Easy Blues and In The Purple Grotto (1951) both express the same relaxed and rhythmically romping feel in the standard 12-bar form. The opening 2 rounds of Easy Blues are beautifully framed in a driving unison which, in the third round’s final four bars, breaks into her unmistakable left-hand comping while her right begins to weave its developing songline into ever more emotionally charged phrases of resplendent beauty.

Oscar Peterson: “Tin Tin Deo
From: Oscar Peterson - Action, May 1964, Private Studio Of Hans Georg Brunner-Schwer, Villingen, West Germany, MPS (G) MPS 15 178 ST.
In the spring of 1976 I had run out of gas with recordings in the rock world. My last foray into the realm was occasioned by life-long friend Oscar "Ok" Hills introducing me to Frank Zappa’s Roxy & Elsewhere and One Size Fits All. I began actively exploring piano works by giants of the jazz genre including Duke Ellington and Fats Waller. What got me started was conferring on the phone with Ok in April (he in New Haven, Connecticut and I in Eugene, Oregon). He pointed me at the first two albums I bought: Keith Jarrett’s Facing You and a two-fer of Oscar Peterson called Exclusively for My Friends. The third track on side one, Tin Tin Deo grabbed my attention with its polyrhythmic 12/8 feel of a four-three pulse. This album was a potent introduction of the traditionalist style of piano improvisation. More than anyone else, Oscar Peterson was the heir to Art Tatum’s nonpareil sound as if four hands were playing rather than just two.
Harkening back to a treasured album also bought in the 1970s, Art Tatum GOD IS IN THE HOUSE Onyx 205, the beginning of the liner notes by Dan Morgenstern convey something of the tradition I was beginning to learn about:
Genius is inexplicable, but Art Tatum, when asked, usually cited Fats Waller as his main inspiration. “Fats, man. That’s where I come from. And quite a place to come from,” he once told an interviewer.
Waller, in turn idolized Tatum. Once, when Tatum entered a club where Fats was performing, he stopped the music and announced “Ladies and gentleman, I play piano, but God is in the house tonight!”
Tatum was a sort of deity to his fellow musicians—not just to pianists, but players of any instrument. No practitioner of the music called jazz had (or has) such perfect technical command, in the traditional sense, as did Art Tatum. But it wasn’t just his astonishing facility that inspired awe in his colleagues. It was his phenomenal harmonic sense, his equally uncanny rhythmic gift, and his boundless imagination. Technique was merely the vehicle through which he expressed himself. What others could imagine, Tatum could execute, and what he could imagine went beyond the wildest dreams of mere musical mortals.
Oscar Peterson carried on the tradition established by Art Tatum with equally unmatched imagination and technical prowess.

Mary Lou Williams: “Hesitation Boogie
From: Mary Lou Williams 1945-1947, by Mary Lou Williams, New York City, 7 October 1946. LP: Victor 40-4043 / RCA 40--0145; CD: Classics 1050.
Hesitation Boogie’s rollicking, driving feel motivated me to transcribe the complete recording as best I could after returning to California in 1980. This solo piano transcription melds elements of Mary Lou’s left-hand bass line with June Rotenberg’s bass in the recording. Producing accurate notation in a transcription of the feel in a recording is difficult at best. In Morning Glory, Linda Dahl’s biography of Mary Lou Williams, she quotes jazz editor Barry Ulanov “who knew Mary well [emphazing] another of her talents”:
One of the difficulties about jazz is that it’s very hard to notate it, but Duke Ellington could and so could Mary. Very few other people have been able to put on paper the feeling of jazz. There are always technical problems, and the rhythm is the most serious: you have to have such a tricky system of dots after notes in order to get the slight changes between values of ordinary eighth, quarter and sixteenth notes. She had discovered, because of her particular genius, a way to articulate on paper a jazz pattern—how to accent a measure. And that’s why her best stuff is among the best in jazz. (p. 99)

John Lewis: “Prelude No.16 Variation
From: John Lewis Vol. 2, The Bridge Game, based on J.S.Bach, “Well-Tempered Clavier” Book 1, Prelude No. 16 in G Minor, Variation: One Diamond. Recorded in New York City, January/October 1985. CD: Philips 826-698-2.
John Lewis plays the score through measure 11, then enters his One Diamond variation. At the close of the variation, he comes back into the score at measure 12. Measures 11 and 12 are:

A detailed description of the evolution of this transcription is presented at the beginning of John Lewis: The Bridge Game, Vol. 2, 1984/85.

As with all these transcriptions, a lot is left to be desired to accurately notate the feel of the song. Nevertheless, putting together a copy of some form is immensely rewarding to promulgate the creative expression of these giants of the piano.

Transcriptions by Other Gifted Souls
Keith Jarrett: “In Front + Lalene”
From: FACING YOU, In Front and Lalene Recorded Oslo, 10 Nov 1971, ECM 1017

I struck gold in 1976 stumbling onto Facing You and the 1968 vinyl two-fer of Oscar Peterson’s In A Mellow Mood. There’s an interesting review of Facing You in ALL Music. While I do not have anywhere near the chops to play either of these compositions, along with floating down a river of jaw-dropping musical ideas listening to each tune, reading the scores while listening is also delightfully expanding.

Two instances of In Front:
  1. a by-hand version by Simon Savary, InFront-Savary.pdf, saved out many years ago from his long since archived Keith Jarrett Transcripts Project.
  2. a piano duo version, InFront-JGSS.pdf, by Jonas G.S. Sørensen on musescore.
Two forms of Lalene both created by Simon Savery: by-hand, and music engraved form.

More Transcriptions
Prokofiev, Vladimir Ovchinikov: “The Quarrel + Vivace”
From: Piano Sonatas / Toccata / 9 Pieces From “Cinderella”, The Quarrel and Vivace Recorded Abbey Road Studios, 1991/92/93, EMI 5 55128 2

Vladimir Ovchinikov’s interpretations of Sergei Prokofiev in this 1994 time buoy renew the musings of the eternal through one soul’s journey of discovery into the infinite form and meaning of our universal language.

The unbounded energy and fire unleashed in these works is jaw-dropping Oo-La-LA. Amongst rising and falling tempos, heart-expanding sound paintings and transitions, ebullient playfulness, prancing dervish somersaults, exquisite highwire command of mass with gravity, driving freight-train momentum, and nonpareil exhilaration, the aural landscapes rendered manifests creativity of limitless scope.

For my illumination, I am transported by following along in the scores whilst drinking in the impossible-to-me musical heights and depths reached through soul-bodies such as is expressed by Vladimir Ovchinikov.

III: Quarrel
Six Pieces From The Ballet “Cinderella”, Op. 102
The somewhat stable opening belies the breathtaking roller coaster about to engage. Beginning at 0:56, the tug-of-war steadily expands outward until it breaks up into a higher level of crashing and splitting at 1:24+. This falls back into the initial frame at 1:39 and then delves into something indescribable beginning at 1:59; some sort of wild extension of a boogie woogie walking bass. Order is once more restored with a return to the first scene at 2:36 wherein the final crashing commences at 2:43.

IV: Vivace
Piano Sonata No. 2 In D Minor, Op. 14
The “race home” gearing up at 3:43 and going to the moon beginning at 4:03+ is beyond mere mortals understanding. Yet the delicious, absolute escape velocity achieved is revelatory.