James Williams (musician)

Last updated

James Williams (March 8, 1951 – July 20, 2004) was an American jazz pianist. [1]

Contents

James Williams w/Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers at Keystone Korner San Francisco 1980 James Williams.jpg
James Williams w/Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers at Keystone Korner San Francisco 1980

Early life

James Williams was born March 8, 1951, in Memphis, Tennessee. He began his formal piano studies at age 13, and was subsequently an organist at Eastern Star Baptist Church in Memphis, a position he held for six years. He earned a B.S. in Music Education at Memphis State University, where he also formed solid friendships with fellow Memphis pianists Mulgrew Miller and Donald Brown. A devotee of the late Memphis pianist Phineas Newborn, Jr., Williams took time to delve into his hometown's jazz heritage, associating with pianist Harold Mabern, bassist Jamil Nasser, and saxophonists George Coleman and Frank Strozier, among others.

Later life and career

At 22, Williams moved to Boston to accept a teaching position at the Berklee College of Music. A year later, he joined drummer Alan Dawson's group, which provided support in the Boston area for touring artists including Art Farmer, Milt Jackson, Sonny Stitt, Pat Martino, Jean Carn, Red Norvo, and Arnett Cobb. In 1977, Williams recorded his first album as a leader, played his first concert featuring his original compositions, and first met Art Blakey. That encounter ultimately led to James's resigning from the Berklee faculty for a four-year, 10-album tenure with the Jazz Messengers, as part of a lineup which included Wynton Marsalis, Bobby Watson, Bill Pierce and Charles Fambrough. After leaving the Messengers in 1981, James remained in Boston, re-joining Alan Dawson and also playing independently with such artists as Thad Jones, Joe Henderson, Clark Terry, Chet Baker and Benny Carter.

In 1984, Williams moved to New York, residing in Brooklyn and becoming deeply involved in the city's musical activities, omnipresent in jazz clubs not only as a performer but also as a devoted listener. He played, toured and recorded with such artists as Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Brown, George Duvivier, Art Farmer, Kenny Burrell, Elvin Jones, Freddie Hubbard and Tony Williams.

As a leader, Williams's recordings include traditional piano–bass–drums trios; larger ensembles with several horns; jazz trio with the Boys Choir of Harlem and guest Dianne Reeves; a four-piano format with rhythm section; a sextet with a front line featuring three saxophonists; a classic setting for Clark Terry; a solo piano recital in the Maybeck series; and his last group, "Intensive Care Unit", a jazz-gospel ensemble featuring two vocalists, saxophone and rhythm section.

After self-producing his own album Alter Ego for Sunnyside Records in 1984, he produced albums for several other musicians, including Phineas Newborn, Jr., Harold Mabern, Donald Brown, Billy Pierce, Bill Easley, Tony Reedus and Geoff Keezer. In 1993, Williams focused his production activities under the umbrella of his company, Finas Sound Productions, Inc. The name is a phonetic tribute to Phineas Newborn, Jr., who pronounced his name "Fine'-us". Finas Sound produced numerous concerts and recordings, including its highly acclaimed "Musical Tributes" and "The Key Players" series, both held at Merkin Concert Hall in Manhattan.

Williams was a prolific composer. His pieces like "Arioso", "Black Scholars" and "Alter Ego" embody memorable melodies and snappy rhythmic construction. Second Floor Music publishes a folio of solo piano arrangements by Williams for 13 of his original compositions. Several of his tunes appear on other artists’ albums, including those of Art Farmer, Kenny Barron, Victor Lewis, Gary Burton and Roy Hargrove.

Williams was a longtime educator. As early as 1975, in addition to his responsibilities at Berklee, he was a faculty member of the National Combo Camp. He also held a teaching position at the Hartt School of Music during the 1984–85 academic year, was a regular contributor to the International Association of Jazz Educators, and was artist-in-residence and presented clinics, demonstration-lectures and workshops at numerous institutions. He was a charter member of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra under the direction of David Baker and Gunther Schuller.

In 1999, he became Director of Jazz Studies at William Paterson University, succeeding Rufus Reid and Thad Jones in that position. He taught a full-time load of ensembles and lessons, hosted dozens of pre-concert interviews and performed on the campus's Jazz Room Series as well as with members of the classical faculty. He continued in this role until his unexpected death of liver cancer in New York City in 2004. The James Williams Archive is now part of the Living Jazz Archives on the William Paterson campus, containing his LP collection, original manuscripts, hundreds of performance tapes, photos and awards.

Blues band Lady Dottie and the Diamonds dedicated their debut album Livin' It Up (2007) to the memory of James Williams.

Discography

As leader/co-leader

As backing musician

With Karrin Allyson

With Art Blakey

With Kenny Burrell

With Art Farmer

With Tal Farlow

With Curtis Fuller

With Tom Harrell

With Howard Johnson and Gravity

With Emily Remler

With Jack Walrath

With Sadao Watanabe

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kevin Eubanks</span> American guitarist (born 1957)

Kevin Tyrone Eubanks is an American jazz and fusion guitarist and composer. He was the leader of The Tonight Show Band with host Jay Leno from 1995 to 2010. He also led the Primetime Band on the short-lived The Jay Leno Show.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cedar Walton</span> American jazz pianist (1934–2013)

Cedar Anthony Walton Jr. was an American hard bop jazz pianist. He came to prominence as a member of drummer Art Blakey's band, The Jazz Messengers, before establishing a long career as a bandleader and composer. Several of his compositions have become jazz standards, including "Mosaic", "Bolivia", "Holy Land", "Mode for Joe" and "Ugetsu/Fantasy in D".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">George Coleman</span> American jazz saxophonist

George Edward Coleman is an American jazz saxophonist known for his work with Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock in the 1960s. In 2015, he was named an NEA Jazz Master.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kenny Barron</span> American jazz pianist (born 1943)

Kenny Barron is an American jazz pianist, who has appeared on hundreds of recordings as leader and sideman and is considered one of the most influential mainstream jazz pianists since the bebop era.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Phineas Newborn Jr.</span> American jazz pianist

Phineas Newborn Jr. was an American jazz pianist, whose principal influences were Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson, and Bud Powell.

Bill Pierce is an American jazz saxophonist.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mulgrew Miller</span> American jazz pianist

Mulgrew Miller was an American jazz pianist, composer, and educator. As a child he played in churches and was influenced on piano by Ramsey Lewis and then Oscar Peterson. Aspects of their styles remained in his playing, but he added the greater harmonic freedom of McCoy Tyner and others in developing as a hard bop player and then in creating his own style, which influenced others from the 1980s on.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Harold Mabern</span> American jazz pianist and composer (1936–2019)

Harold Mabern Jr. was an American jazz pianist and composer, principally in the hard bop, post-bop, and soul jazz fields. He is described in The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings as "one of the great post-bop pianists".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kenny Werner</span> American jazz pianist and composer

Kenny Werner is an American jazz pianist, composer, and author.

Ronald Mathews was an American jazz pianist who worked with Max Roach from 1963 to 1968 and Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. He acted as lead in recording from 1963 and 1978–79. His most recent work was in 2008, as both a mentor and musician with Generations, a group of jazz musicians headed by veteran drummer Jimmy Cobb. He contributed two new compositions for the album that was released by San Francisco State University's International Center for the Arts on September 15, 2008.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ray Drummond</span> American jazz musician

Ray Drummond is an American jazz bassist and teacher. He also has an MBA from Stanford University, hence his linkage to the Stanford Jazz Workshop. He can be heard on hundreds of albums and co-leads The Drummonds with Renee Rosnes and Billy Drummond.

Victor Lewis is an American jazz drummer, composer, and educator.

Frank Lacy is an American jazz trombonist who has spent many years as a member of the Mingus Big Band.

Tony Reedus was an American jazz drummer.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Donald Brown (musician)</span> American jazz pianist and producer

Donald Ray Brown is an American jazz pianist and producer.

Geoffrey Keezer is an American jazz pianist. In 2023, he won the Best Instrumental Composition Grammy for Refuge

<span class="mw-page-title-main">The Jazz Messengers</span> American jazz band

The Jazz Messengers were a jazz combo that existed for over thirty-five years beginning in the early 1950s as a collective, and ending when long-time leader and founding drummer Art Blakey died in 1990. Blakey led or co-led the group from the outset. "Art Blakey" and "Jazz Messengers" became synonymous over the years, though Blakey did lead non-Messenger recording sessions and played as a sideman for other groups throughout his career.

"Yes sir, I'm gonna to stay with the youngsters. When these get too old, I'm gonna get some younger ones. Keeps the mind active."

Joseph William Mobley is an American jazz trumpet and flugelhorn player.

<i>Straight Street</i> (album) 1991 studio album by Harold Mabern

Straight Street is an album by pianist Harold Mabern. It was recorded in 1989 and released by DIW Records.

<i>Maya with Love</i> 2000 studio album by Harold Mabern

Maya with Love is an album by pianist Harold Mabern which was released by DIW Records in 2000.

References