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Wed, 12.12.1945

Tony Williams, Drummer born

Tony Williams

Tony Williams, a Black drummer, was born on this date in 1945.

Born in Chicago, his family moved to Boston when he was about 2. By the time he was 15, he was an active freelance musician in the Boston area, thanks in large part to his musician father, who exposed him to the club and music scene early on.  He studied with Alan Dawson and played with Max Roach and Art Blakey while still a youth. Appearing on the jazz scene in the early 1960s, first with Sam Rivers and then with Jackie McLean, the very young drummer's impact was immediate.

His solos and drop-time accompaniment were revolutionary departures from not only idol Max Roach's approach to percussion but from everyone else who'd ever played. A frenetic yet delicate player, Williams’ early style was characterized by blinding speed and an acute sense for hearing what everyone else was playing. He would eventually import more bulk to his set, emphasizing volume and impact more than pure dexterity. It was through his association with McLean that he met and, in May 1963, joined Miles Davis in a life-changing career move.

During the course of his brilliant six-year stint with Davis' quintet, Williams also recorded with many others and released two albums of his own, "Lifetime," 1964, and "Spring," 1965, both Blue Note. These albums were critically praised and the first real avant-garde albums for the label.  By 1969, Williams formed his seminal electric band, Lifetime, with John McLaughlin and Larry Young. During the 1970s, he founded different electric groups, was a member of V.S.O.P.--the jazz band with former Davis band-mates Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Wayne Shorter, and he played with various others.

In the 1980s, Williams formed his last great band, playing acoustic, straight-ahead jazz for Blue Note, as well as recording in a number of different settings that emphasized his diverse tastes. Williams' musical life also included work as a composer, a talent he displayed with great flair throughout his career. He was developing composition further at the time of his sudden death on February 23, 1997.

All That Jazz: The Illustrated Story of Jazz Music
General Editor: Ronald Atkins
Copyright 1996, Carlton Books Limited
ISBN 0-76519-953-X

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