Claude Williams: Swinging The Blues
Author Michael Ondaatje wrote Coming Through Slaughter, a fictional account of the real New Orleans barber and perhaps the first jazz musician, Buddy Bolden. Bolden’s myth and infamy comes from the fact he was never recorded. Thus, his life makes for great story telling and his sound for much exaggeration. For violinist Claude “Fiddler” Williams, recording in his ninth decade on this planet, his sound is a living archive of jazz history. Williams was born in 1908 in Oklahoma and worked in Doc Pettiford’s (bassist Oscar Pettiford’s father) family band before becoming part of the Kansas City jazz scene of the 1920 and 1930s. His recording debut was with Andy Kirk’s band in 1929. He was hired by Count Basie and would have made it to the big time except for Basie producer John Hammond’s vision that no one in the rhythm section except Basie himself should solo. Williams was replaced by the non-soloing Freddie Green on guitar. Williams returned to Kansas City becoming a regular with the local bands. His association with Jay McShann helped to resurrect his career nationally when in the 1970’s he toured Europe and recorded for independent labels like Steeplechase, Black & Blue, Arhoolie, and Progressive.
Recorded seventy years after his debut, Williams has polished his sound into a precious metal. This ninety-something, like the late Doc Cheatham, has a quiet swing that appeals to a jazz fan whose tastes have mellowed or should I say matured. I always wondered why my father got an adrenilin rush from hearing “Satin Doll.” Thanks to Claude Williams, now I know. His gentle blues spur the heart and his swing, written with a small “s,” stirs the soul. It also didn’t hurt that he was recorded with some stellar musicians like Joe Cohn, the son of saxophonist Al Cohn, and pianist Henry Butler. Butler was a major star for Impulse! Records in the eighties, injecting his New Orleans sound with post-bop and Gospel. Also heard on two tracks is Kansas City’s own Bobby Watson on alto saxophone. Like Williams, Watson's sound has mellowed a bit from his days with Art Blakey and his own band Horizon. A gentle blues, such as this, bears repeated application.
Track List:The Preacher; Things Ain’t What They Used To Be; Somewhere Over The Rainbow; A Smooth One; Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good To You; I’m Just A Lucky So And So; Moten Swing; These Foolish Things; One For The Count; There Is No Greater Love.
Personnel: Claude Williams