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Jeff Williams: Drums in the House

Peter Madsen By

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Good communication. Support. Awareness. Understanding. Growth. Creativity. Fun. These are just some of the important ideas that come to mind when I think about a good relationship, whether as a partner in love or in music. One such talented musician embodying these ideas and many more is the amazing drummer Jeff Williams.

Jeff Williams and I met in Brooklyn over fifteen years ago when I was lucky enough (or crazy enough) to have a non-stop "session apartment". Every afternoon through my door came a wide variety of New York musicians who were looking for a chance to play some music or to try out some of their recent compositions or just to hang out and meet some new cats on the scene. I would always entice the drummers to come over by telling them proudly of my drums with the psychedelic red swirl finish. (Actually they are great Slingerland drums from 1965 and still sound great!) Jeff Williams was one of the fantastic drummers who took the bait and ended up becoming one of my favorites. I had heard of Jeff before I met him from his 1970's recordings with the great band of David Liebman and Richie Beirach called 'Lookout Farm'. What I didn't know about Jeff was that by the time we had met he had already been playing in New York for almost fifteen years. His mother, who was a jazz singer (who had recorded with Clark Terry), began taking him out to the clubs when he was 10 years old giving him the chance to meet many jazz masters including Miles Davis, Elvin Jones, Jo Jones, Ben Webster and many others. By the time I met Jeff he had already worked with Stan Getz for a couple of years as well as with many other great artists such as: Dizzy Gillespie, Lee Konitz, John Abercrombie, John Scofield, Joe Farrell, Dave Holland and tons of others. Jeff has continued to work with an endless list of jazz stars like Cedar Walton, Michel Petrucciani, Clifford Jordan and George Coleman to mention just a few.

Playing with Jeff is an amazing experience. He has a way of surrounding you with musical sounds and rhythms that give you the feeling that whatever you decide to play that it will fit. He can play the most complex ideas and yet make you feel totally comfortable. His energy is awesome and he uses it wisely with superb musicianship. He listens carefully and gives you support every step of your cooperative musical journey. These are just some of the reasons why bassist Anthony Cox and I formed a trio with Jeff in the mid-80's called 'Interplay'. It was a very open creative group in that we played a lot of freely improvised music along with some originals and a few jazz standards. We not only played our own instruments but we also played homemade percussion (I love Tony Oxley), synthesizers, gongs, radios, typewriters, kitchen blenders, and anything else we could get our hands on that made an interesting sound. We played a number of gigs around town as well as up in Boston (where Jeff had gone to school at Berklee and studied with the legendary Alan Dawson). It was pretty funny when this totally wild and crazy trio ended up playing together with Stan Getz in 1987.

Jeff is not only a superb drummer but he is also a very cool composer. You can hear his great writing skills on either of his two CDs that he's made as a leader. One is called 'Coalescence' on SteepleChase and the other is the recently released 'Jazzblues' on Cathexis. Unlike most CDs Jeff used his working band for both of these recordings, Tim Ries and Patrick Zimmerli play saxophones, Kevin Hays is on piano and Doug Weiss holds down the bass chair. You can also hear some of Jeff's compositions if you come out and hear our most recent trio called Left-Handed Compliment with Jeff on drums, myself on keyboard playing all the basslines as well as the harmony and John O'Gallager on saxophone.

Jeff is busy playing and recording these days with many of the young creative musicians as many veteran masters like Paul Bley and Lee Konitz. He is also busy conducting on the New York scene such as Tony Malaby, Mike Formanek and Dave Ballou as well master classes, workshops and clinics around the area. Go out and hear Jeff live whenever you get a chance, you're in for a major treat!


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