Born in Chicago and growing up in Boston, Williams
began studies with master drummer Alan Dawson at an
early age and began playing professionally at the age of
13 with saxophonist Sam Rivers. Jackie McLean hired
Williams at 16. At 17 Williams found considerable fame
with Miles Davis, joining a group that was later dubbed
Davis's "Second Great Quintet." His first album as a
leader, 1964's Life Time (not to be confused with the
name of his band "Lifetime," which he formed several
years later) was recorded during his tenure with Davis.
Williams was a vital element of the group, called by Davis
in his autobiography "the center of the group's sound".
 His inventive playing helped redefine
the role of jazz rhythm section through the use of
polyrhythms and metric modulation (transitioning between
mathematically related tempos and/or time signatures).
But perhaps his overarching achievement was in
demonstrating, through his playing, that the drummer
need not be relegated to timekeeping and
accompaniment in a jazz ensemble; that the drummer
may be free to contribute to the performance as an equal
partner in the improvisation.
In 1969, he formed a trio, "The Tony Williams Lifetime,"
with John McLaughlin on guitar and Larry Young on