Havin' A Good Time
documents a concert that never should have happened. In the winter of 1964 Providence was socked with a blizzard that kept eager concertgoers away from the club where Joe Williams was playing. Enough people showed up that he still had to perform a few sets, but the lucky few who were there were given a rare treat; improbably, Ben Webster showed up out of nowhere and asked if he could sit in.
This is the sort of magical encounter on which jazz thrives: no preparation, no rehearsal, just a couple of masters joining together to produce some wonderful music on the spot. According to pianist Junior Mance, this was the only meeting between Webster and Williams, and fortunately it was caught on tape. All of these songs are either well-known or based on fairly simple chord progressions, which allows the band to plug into the numbers without much difficulty.
If Webster hadn't appeared, the set would still have been worth a listen; Williams always did his best work in front of an audience, and the fact that the small crowd had braved the storm to see him no doubt only added to his enthusiastic delivery. Blues songs like "Just A Sittin' and A Rockin' were tailor-made for Williams' rich baritone and exuberant presence. But the presence of Webster adds a new dimension; he gets ample solo space, really digging in to the slower numbers that he plays so beautifully, and huffs quietly behind Williams as he sings. The rhythm section seems invigorated by the chance to play with the added firepower; Junior Mance in particular carves out a niche with some smoking accompaniment.
Havin' A Good Time is an appropriate title for this new release. Clearly the audience enjoyed the collaboration and the musicians crafted some terrific entertainment. It may have been cold and snowy outside, but it sure was hot inside.
Personnel: Joe Williams - vocals; Ben Webster - tenor sax; Junior Mance - piano; Bob Cranshaw - bass; Mickey Roker - drums.