Tiny Desk

Ben Williams And Sound Effect

Download Audio

Ben Williams: Tiny Desk Concert

He's no Beltway insider. But in a way, jazz bassist Ben Williams owes his career to the politics of Washington, D.C.

While growing up in the District, his mother, Bennie Barnes-Williams, worked for U.S. Rep. John Conyers. The Democrat from Michigan happens to be a huge jazz fan, as well as a noted advocate for the art form, and when the 6-year-old Ben accompanied his mother to her boss' well-appointed office one day, he stumbled upon a massive, curvaceous, wooden string instrument in the corner.

Fast-forward some 20-odd years, and Ben Williams is a rising jazz star. He won the 2009 Thelonious Monk Competition — held at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. — and (literally) went home to his mother with a recording contract for his debut album. State of Art was released this summer, and for a release party, he came down from his New York apartment to play two nights in D.C., stopping by the NPR Music offices in the process.

Williams and his band gave us two songs, both from the new record. The second was a calming, meditative ballad called "Dawn of a New Day," with the good manners of cloth on a drum head and tinkling piano. But the first tune — that's where the District comes bubbling up. First, the guitar (Gilad Hekselman) and drums (John Davis) lay down an aggressive, snappy foundation. The bass and electric keyboard (Christian Sands) fill out the polyrhythms. That groove, with its snappy hip-hop flavor, feels at home cruising down Georgia Avenue, then turning right on U Street NW, the historic African-American commercial district of Washington. Then the saxophone (Marcus Strickland) enters, and it's game on.

On the day of our show, Williams' band arrived before he did — he'd come to town a day early to spend time with his family. So while Bennie was piloting her son down from Northeast D.C., the other musicians jocularly jammed on J Dilla beats and the saxophone riff from George Michael's "Careless Whisper." (It was great, actually.) Once Ben Williams arrived, we rushed him upstairs, at which point he tuned up his bass and launched right into that first tune. Not surprisingly, it's called "Home."

Set List
  • "Home"
  • "Dawn Of A New Day"
Credits

John Poole, Tucker Walsh (cameras); edited by Michael Katzif; audio by Kevin Wait; photo by Emily Bogle/NPR

[+] read more[-] less

More From Tiny Desk

Tiny Desk Concert with Shamir Lani Milton/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Lani Milton/NPR

Tiny Desk

Shamir

The singer's disco-infused funk and soul gets stripped down to a lone voice with a guitar.

Tiny Desk Concert with Paul Weller. Lani Milton/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Lani Milton/NPR

Tiny Desk

Paul Weller

See the beloved Britpop veteran perform songs from his new album, Saturns Pattern.

Tiny Desk Concert with Kate Tempest. Lani Milton/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Lani Milton/NPR

Tiny Desk

Kate Tempest

A celebrated English playwright and rapper deploys storytelling and poetry.

Tiny Desk Concert with Songhoy Blue Lani Milton /NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Lani Milton /NPR

Tiny Desk

Songhoy Blues

See a Malian band that fuses African music with Western rock.

Tiny Desk Concert with Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad of Girlpool. Maggie Starbard/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Maggie Starbard/NPR

Tiny Desk

Girlpool

The charming duo performs three of the simple, direct songs from Before The World Was Big.

Tiny Desk Concert with Christopher Paul Stelling. Morgan McCloy/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Morgan McCloy/NPR

Tiny Desk

Christopher Paul Stelling

Best witnessed live, Stelling's music is steeped in tradition yet filled with vitality and soul.

Tiny Desk Concert with And The Kids. Morgan McCloy/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Morgan McCloy/NPR

Tiny Desk

And The Kids

The trio's music is full of life, with dissonant sounds that still feel suited for singalongs.

Tiny Desk Concert with Oddisee Colin Marshall/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Colin Marshall/NPR

Tiny Desk

Oddisee

The charismatic Brooklyn-via-D.C.-area rapper creates just the right amount of space in his music.

Tiny Desk Concert with Hop Along. Maggie Starbard/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Maggie Starbard/NPR

Tiny Desk

Hop Along

Frances Quinlan's raspy voice whispers one moment, then lets loose a gut-punching howl the next.

Tiny Desk Concert with Timothy Showalter, songwriter and producer of Strand of Oaks. Maggie Starbard /NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Maggie Starbard /NPR

Tiny Desk

Strand Of Oaks

Timothy Showalter's music is filled with bite and sometimes regret, but also a good deal of warmth.

Back To Top