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Artist Profiles

Bishop Norman Williams: Swinging from Kansas City to San Francisco

By Published: April 12, 2008

AAJ: What about Prince Lasha? I remember meeting him with you one time. Have you seen him lately?

BNW: No. He's lives in New York. He came down to a gig that me and Vince Wallace were doing. He came down there with Mike Marcus.

AAJ: Who else have you worked with lately in San Francisco?

BNW: I've worked with Howard Wiley with Marcus Shelby's big band. They needed an alto player. That music was so hard. I was trying to sight read without any rehearsals. But, Howard was in the band, we played a lot of Duke, and Samir. You remember that drummer, Samir? Yeah, but Howard's bad! Whooooooooooo! He reads his ass off too, that boy can read. So, anyway, Marcus called me for that particular gig. But I remember meeting Marcus down at the Gathering. And I played with Lavay Smith for a few years in her quartet. She's a hell of a singer. She called me up and asked me to play a gig. I can't even remember where it was, but it was a challenge to play for her, I mean, she's been around, and those big band arrangements. And do you know this alto player, Evan Francis? He's bad. He goes back and forth to New York, but he was born in LA. He plays with Marcus Shelby's band. He's a young cat.

AAJ: And you've known BJ Papa for a long time now.

BNW: Oh yeah. When I met BJ he was playing saxophone. Did you know he played saxophone? He played tenor at that time but he told me he got an alto. I met him, shoot, let's see, in '61. He was playing down at, in fact my first gig was at this place called Soulville, down at McAllister and Webster. As soon as I got down here they gave me the job. Parker, a cat named Parker. He said, "you want to be the leader of the band?" I had never led no band before but he gave me my first job out here! And this was in '61. I moved to LA and then to Vegas, and then here, all in the same year. After I worked at Soulville, I played at "they had this place" you ever hear of Bop City?

AAJ: SM: Yeah, sure. I was going to ask you about that.

BNW: That's a place where everybody that was anybody" they'd come down there. I met a lot of people there. Miles Davis used to come out there, Paul Gonzales was coming down there, Frank Foster, Frank Wess, all those people used to come down to play there, and I was the leader of the band. We started at two o'colck and went until six. I worked there for three years, from '61 to '64. And Jimbo. He'd run that club back and forth. He died maybe a couple of years ago. He was a smart cat. He was a gambler, and he ran that club, I mean, anybody he didn't like, I mean, smooth cat, man. It was at Buchanan and Post. That's where everyone went, because it went on all night, so, If you couldn't sleep, it was like, go down to Bop City! That was the time that they had clubs all the way around the clock. They also had the Blue Mirror down on Filmore.

AAJ: These are great posters. Who are these guys?

BNW: That's me and Woody Shaw. We did a CD together. That's me and Freddie Hubbard, and Dave Leibman. And that's me and Sonny Stitts, and me and John Handy. And this here is Thelonious Monk. I played at his birthday party at this club here in San Francisco. The Baroness was there, and the Baroness' daughter. I have a picture here of Pharaoh Sanders. I've played with him. He was working at a place called Tiki Jack's over there in Oakland. That's where he got famous over there. A lot of people from out of town would come there. I worked there with Sonny Stitts. And we made a CD.

AAJ: Well, great to talk to you today, Bishop! Let's do some playing!

BNW: Let's shed!

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