Marian McPartland chose her old friend Mary Lou Williams to be her very first guest on her long running NPR series Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz, though the taping of this inaugural show was not without its problems. First of all, McPartland intended to have Williams as her sole guest, but Williams brought along bassist Ronnie Boykins without telling McPartland, who ended up accompanying her instead of the hostess on all but one song, while the finale features all three musicians. As a result, McPartland seems a bit nervous at times during the show, occasionally talking over her guest, while Williams hardly helps by abruptly calling out changes to Boykins in the middle of several songs. But eventually things settle down somewhat, with McPartland getting Williams to loosen up enough to sing a chorus of "Rosa Mae" after she completed an instrumental take of it. Williams' rendition of John Stubblefield's fascinating blues "Baby Man" briefly detours into a bit of free jazz; the stunning take of "Caravan" is no surprise since it was long a favorite of Williams. Another great original blues, "Scratchin' in the Gravel," features the two pianists together. The rough spots in this initial show don't keep it from being an important historical part of Williams' career because she was never consistently recorded. McPartland would get over these early butterflies to develop into a superb interviewer and imaginative musical partner when she had the chance to consistently play with her guests.
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AllMusic Review by Ken Dryden