Words and Music by Jack Lawrence, Mary Lou Williams & Paul Webster
Some Of The Best Recordings
For sheet music contact: www.halleonard.com
The Story Behind The Song
I first met the legendary arranger, composer, jazz pianist Mary Lou Williams at the Decca Record Studios in 1937. This talented lady had an incredible background: by age 13 she was playing carnivals and vaudeville and married the leader of the band, reedman John Williams. When Williams left, she hired Jimmie Lunceford to replace him and Andy Kirk to front the band for which she made arrangements and played piano.
My friendship with Jack and Dave Kapp who ran Decca led them to suggest that instead of chasing publishers with my songs, I should let Decca have first crack at them; thus they would achieve the first recording of possible hits. (Of course, in return Dave would get a percentage. But it was well worth it!) Via this arrangement Decca gave me and my Viennese collaborator, Peter Tinturin an enormous overnight hit; "What Will I Tell My Heart?" recorded by Andy Kirk and His Clouds of Joy with a stunning arrangement by Mary Lou. Every publisher in town courted us and we made a lucrative deal with Crawford Music. Naturally Peter and I brought all our new songs to Decca and in return got great records by their top artists: Chick Webb and Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby, the Andrews Sisters, the Mills Brothers, etc. In short order we were the fair-haired young writers around town.
Mary Lou with her serene sculptured face, looked to me like an Egyptian princess and we developed a warm friendship. One day she played me a blues she had written with a trumpet player named Paul Webster (not to be confused with the prolific lyricist, Paul FRANCIS Webster). I loved Mary Lou's tune and asked for a lead sheet so that I could write a lyric. It was a tricky melody with interesting phrasing and what I came up with was "What's Your Story, Morning Glory?"
Mary Lou wrote a great chart for the Clouds of Joy and naturally I attended the recording session. But during the rehearsal of the song, the band's high-pitched tenor vocalist, Pha Terrel just couldn't master that intricate melody. Whereupon Mary Lou announced: "Jack knows it! Let him sing it". Thus I became a Decca Record vocalist! Dave Kapp kidded about listing me as "Spade Lawrence" but the record was issued with no vocal credit much to my disappointment. If any reader can find a copy of this record, you'll hear my one and only appearance as a Decca vocalist. However, some years later all this led to a vocal career for me on Langworth Transcriptions and some other labels.
"What's Your Story, Morning Glory?" garnered some fab recordings, particularly Jimmie Lunceford's version with another great Mary Lou arrangement. And not to forget a mention of Glenn Miller's version of this song. This jazz lady pianist went on to a grand career: arrangements for Earl Hines, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington and solo appearances in the best night spots of America and Europe. In the mid 50's she left music for a while and entered the Catholic Church. By the time I saw her again in the 60's she had become paranoid about people, publishers and record companies. She felt everyone was out to cheat her. She became a recluse and died in 1981. But she is not forgotten by those who heard her play or listened to her band arrangements or her compositions like "Camel Hop", Roll 'Em", "Trumpets No End", "In The Land Of Oo-Bla-Dee."
Copyright © 2005 Jack Lawrence. All Rights Reserved.