James Williams Remembered On JazzSet

Mulgrew Miller Leads The WPU Faculty

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57 min 56 sec
 
James Williams.

James Williams. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of the artist

Set List

"Focus"

"Mister Day's Dream"

"Alter Ego"

"In the Garden"

"Take Time for Love"

"Fourplay"

Personnel

Mulgrew Miller, piano

David Demsey, sax

Bill Easley, flute, clarinet, sax

Bill Mobley, trumpet

Ray Drummond, bass

Rodney Green, drums

If you had anything to do with jazz in the 1980s and '90s, you knew pianist James Williams (1951-2004). He made a great first impression, and the goodness just kept coming. Fellow faculty at the Jazz Studies program at William Paterson University play his music to celebrate their much-missed friend.

When James Williams sat down at the piano, he channeled his church-based fundamentals and personal spark directly through the instrument. He was a communicator. And that's not to mention that Williams at his finest could say it all, exceptionally clearly, at a seriously fast tempo.

The man lived and breathed jazz. If he wasn't talking jazz with his friends in person, he was on the phone from Memphis or Brooklyn or maybe Europe, or leaving a lengthy message about the music on your answering machine. In his so-called free time, he mixed his other love — sports — into the conversation, and dreamed up crazy matches like a classical vs. jazz baseball game with complete line-ups for both sides, to "finally settle the score."

From his time with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers to the Contemporary Piano Ensemble and his Magical Trios, Williams singlemindedly blazed a jazz path that in September 1999 led him to a great new position at William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J.

William Paterson had run a jazz program since the 1970s, first led by Thad Jones and then Rufus Reid for 20 years, and then — when the time came to find the next musician with respect and stature who could inspire and teach and move the program forward — James Williams. Williams even bought a car to cross several rivers between his Brooklyn apartment and his new job.

James Williams had grown up playing keyboards in the Baptist Church and loved hymns. WPU graduate student Ashley Pettet steps up to sing the hymn "In the Garden" with professor Mulgrew Miller on piano, on this Sunday-afternoon show from the Shea Center. Following the performance, the audience was invited to the Jazz Studies archives to see the wonderful collection of music, writings and photos that Williams left to the school.

Credits:

Recording and remix engineer Duke Markos, with assistant Steve Weiss.

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