Joe Williams featuring Ben Webster: Havin' a Good Time (2005)
By Ted Kane
Over the years, I've come to be a bit skeptical of the "discovered" or "lost classic" type of record release. You know, the kind where the historical significance is trumpeted and the sound quality is at a subbootleg level. Most of the time, that stuff languished in a vault for a reason all those years. Still, when I heard about Havin' a Good Time, the only known pairing of the great jazz/blues singer and Basie alum Joe Williams with Duke Ellington's legendary tenor saxophonist Ben Webster, I was willing to suspend my disbelief.
Good thing, too, because Havin' a Good Time is the real deal for once. The sound is surprisingly clean and clear; Williams' rich voice jumps right out at you, and the mix is no worse than most live recordings from the early '60s. Williams had a fine band in tow, including drummer Mickey Roker, bassist Bob Cranshaw, and a consistently inspired Junior Mance on piano, for this date recorded on a cold night in Providence 43 years ago. Webster was in town on his own gig and apparently asked if he could sit in; I can only imagine that the band spent scant seconds in deliberation.
The performance offers no profound revelations, perhaps, but a swinging good time from start to finish. Williams and Webster were each among the finest interpreters of blues and ballads on their respective instruments and it is a pleasure to hear them together. Everybody seems to be enjoying themselves on stage, and their pleasure is infectious.
Track Listing: Sittin' Rockin'; Kansas City Blues; River St. Marie; That's All; Alone Together; I'm Through; Great City; 100 Years; Ain't Misbehavin'; Honeysuckle Rose; Alright, OK; Havin' a Good Time.
Personnel: Joe Williams: vocals; Junior Mance: piano; Mickey Roker: drums; Ben Webster: tenor saxophone; Bob Cranshaw: bass.