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Anthony H. "Tony" Williams, long-time Philadelphia alto sax star, band leader and educator has been named recipient of the 2003 Mellon Jazz Community Award. The award was presented at, appropriately, the Mt. Airy Cultural Center's 13th Annual Tony Williams Scholarship Jazz Festival at 7:15 P.M., Aug. 29 at the Cherry Hill, N.J. Hilton, 2349 Marlton Pike,Cherry Hill. Mr. Williams was a founder of the Center which helps students learn the basics of jazz. Last year's award winner, WRTI jazz disc jockey Bob Perkins, was present for the ceremony.
The yearly Labor Day Weekend Festival included a gang-busters collection of Philadelphia's finest jazz musicians. Included will be such major stars as Larry McKenna, Bootsie Barnes, Jeannie Brooks, Dave Posmontier, Jimi Odell, Denise King, John Blake, the Heath Brothers, Joe Sudler, Terell Stafford and Pieces of a Dream, a group Tony helped get started. Percy Heath received a special tribute. More details, including prices and times, are available at www.maccjazz.org.
Tony has a lifetime of playing and propagating jazz. He was for 30 years variously a classroom teacher, athletic coach, and House Director to the Vice Principal. When asked how he felt about the award, he replied simply, "I was very surprised and highly honored." Born July 2, 1931 in Chattanooga, TN, he enjoyed the benefit of a musical family where as he puts it, "I met a lot of outstanding musicians when I was just five or six." He adds, "I met Jimmy Blanton (a relative), Fletcher Henderson, Louis Jordan and the Tympany Five, Pigmeat Markham, there was always someone coming."
Tony went to Abington High School with piano man Eddie Green. They both worked at a local hospital where as Tony puts it, "I was the dishwasher and he was the pot washer." They worked professionally together right through relatively recent times at the famed Monday night jam sessions at the Blue Note Cafe on Limekiln Pike. These days, Tony can be found playing Thursday-Saturdays at the considerably more posh setting of the Ritz Hotel on Broad Street.
Whether leading his own group or just sitting in as a sideman, Tony always projects the joy of jazz. He recalls playing with Wild Bill Davis and Dakota Staton and "the greatest time of my life when I played with Nat Adderley, Donald Byrd and Gerald Price, a most dedicated, inspired person."
Like many first class musicians Tony often goes out of his way to hear others. While playing a set at the Ritz on Aug. 22, Tony took a break time to go see Bootsie Barnes, once again blowing up a soulful and powerful tenor at Chris' Cafe. Sitting in with him were Tony Micelli on vibes; Dan Monaghan on drums and Lee Smith on bass. They played the first set with masterful aplomb going through standards such as Skylark with a sensitivity that brought them back to life again. It was like 52nd Street in its glory days and Tony loved it and let them know it.
Paul Kochis, Chairman of Mellon's mid Atlantic region, said: "Tony Williams accomplishment strengthening the link between education and performance artistry have made him a giant among jazz leaders in Philadelphia. His contributions to maintaining the vitality of Philadelphia's rich jazz tradition especially, his achievements as founder of the Mt Airy Cultural Center, make him an outstanding recipient of the 2003 Mellon Jazz Community Award."
As a kid, my mom told me I'd like jazz. I thought she was nuts. Then I went to hear Cannonball Adderley (with Nat Adderley, George Duke, Walter Booker, Roy McCurdy and Airto) and everything changed. Yeah, mom knows best.