Jazz: Female pianists: the long hello

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The Independent Culture
Lovie Austin (1887-1972)

Pianist, composer and arranger who backed the singers Bessie Smith, Ida Cox and Ethel Waters. She led the pit orchestra of Chicago's Monogram Theater for more than 20 years, where Mary Lou Williams remembered her, cigarette in mouth, conducting with her left hand while she wrote the next night's music with her right. She ended her years as a dance-school pianist.

Lil Hardin (1898-1971)

Classically trained pianist who met her future husband Louis Armstrong when she was playing in King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band. They left to form their own band - which she led - in New York, but Armstrong was piqued by taunts that he worked for his wife. They divorced in 1938, and she successfully sued him for copyright on tunes they had composed together. She died of a heart attack during a memorial concert for Armstrong.

Mary Lou Williams (1910-1981)

Played, wrote and arranged for the Andy Kirk band, and also arranged for Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington. She successfully bridged boogie- woogie to bop, and became a friend to bebop players such as Tadd Dameron, Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell, whose styles she influenced. In 1977 she played a famous New York duo concert with the avant-garde pianist Cecil Taylor.

Shirley Scott (b 1934)

Swapped piano for organ in 1955 and became one of the greatest of all funky Hammond organists. She toured and recorded with the sax player Stanley Turrentine, whom she later married and divorced. A strong, bluesy player, she still plays and records.

Alice Coltrane (b 1937)

Classically trained pianist (she also plays organ and harp) who worked in Detroit with her own trio. She married the saxophonist John Coltrane in 1966 and was his pianist until his death in 1967. Her own albums on Impulse are compelling, if mystically inclined, and have become fashionable in Acid Jazz circles. Now "semi-retired", she runs an ashram from her Los Angeles home.

Joanne Brackeen (b 1938)

Married sax player Charles Brackeen in 1960 and gave up music to raise a family. Re-emerged in 1966, and joined Stan Getz's group before doing solo performances. Leonard Feather, the writer, considered her as important to the Eighties as Keith Jarrett was to the Seventies.

Nikki Yeoh (b 1974)

Extravagantly gifted English pianist and composer whose solo performances mix free improvisations with television theme tunes. Her debut album will appear on Joanna McGregor's SoundCircus label.

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