Mary Lou Williams
The amazing Mary Lou Williams started out as a stomping stride pianist during the 1920s and went on to put her stamp on practically all forms of acoustic jazz before her death in 1981. Williams was a keen observer who changed with the times, but more importantly, she was also an innovator who influenced the work of everyone from Benny Goodman to Dizzy Gillespie. She is justly celebrated as a trailblazing feminist icon, but in a way this has demeaned Williams' work as a pianist -- her far reaching and joyful recordings remain vital when taken out of social or historical contexts. Williams was also an ace arranger who wrote big band charts for everyone from Tommy Dorsey to Earl Hines during the Swing era.