Claude Williams - Swing Time in New York
Liner Notes - 1995
Webmaster's Special Note: The following liner notes written in 1994 represent what is perhaps the most accurate and concise record of the musical life of Claude "Fiddler" Williams. These were compiled and written by Claude's long time manager, Russ Dantzler, who has dedicated much his artist management career to this jazz legend. The second set of liner notes written in 1996 update this biographical record.
Fiddler passed away, Sunday, April 25, 2004 in Kansas City, Missouri.
It has taken over 75 years for the violin style heard on this disc to evolve. Claude Williams was swinging on stringed instruments before the word "jazz" had been applied to music. Born in Muskogee, Oklahoma, in 1908, Williams played guitar, mandolin, banjo and cello by the age of ten. He then heard Joe Venuti's violin at an outdoor pavilion "above the orchestra, on top of all the other instruments" and convinced his family to buy him his first fiddle the next day.
By the time he went to bed that night, he was playing the third song on this CD, "You've Got To See Mamma Ev'ry Night Or You Can't See Mama At All" on his violin. His paying work started with his brother-in-law Ben Johnson's string band, a group of young musicians playing barber shops, hotels, and front yards. Claude remembers making good tip money in an evening, "six to seven dollars apiece ... and folks were working all week for five to six dollars then." The Pettiford Family Band, with young Oscar Pettiford, was the first of many "territory" bands to feature Claude.
Williams moved to Kansas City in 1928 when it was a hot-bed for swing, the new popular music of the era. Claude insists the best musicians could only make it big after a K. C. trial, saying they "had to earn their Kansas City Stamp, then they could go anywhere." Kansas City was wide open with good musicians finding plenty of work in an active club scene, even during prohibition. Claude's first recordings were made in 1928 on guitar and violin with the Twelve Clouds of Joy for the Brunswick label. This band was first led by Terrence Holder, then by Andy Kirk, and included the great Mary Lou Williams arranging and composing at the piano. When the band needed to add more tunes to play at jitney dances, Claude developed and played horn arrangements that Mary Lou wrote out for her husband John Williams to play.
In 1930 the Twelve Clouds of Joy with Claude made a New York debut playing the Roseland Ballroom and Harlem's Savoy. The band returned to K.C. where many clubs near 18th and Vine were employing bands. Battles of the bands, jam sessions and cutting contests occurred around the clock. In those situations, horn players such as Lester Young, Ben Webster, Hershel Evans and Buddy Tate had a major influence on Claude's style. Fiddler either battled or was a member of the best bands in Kansas City - he joined Alphonso Trent's band and George E. Lee's Orchestra before leaving the area temporarily.
Count Basie searched for the great guitarist and fiddler he remembered from Kansas City when assembling his first big band in 1936. Basie found Claude in Chicago, where he had been playing with Eddie Cole's band. Eddie's brother, Nat "King" Cole, played in that band. Williams said "Nat didn't even know he could sing then, but he was the best piano player in Chicago." As part of the Count Basie Orchestra, Claude Williams briefly enjoyed national fame. He was voted "Best Guitarist of The Year" in a Downbeat national reader's poll. Claude now thanks Freddie Green for replacing him on guitar in the Basie Orchestra, saying that, "if I had stayed with Count, I would have just been playing that ching-ching rhythm guitar for forty years."
In the 1940s, Claude worked with a WPA band in Michigan and The Four Shades of Rhythm in Chicago. He once played on the Arthur Godfrey Show with Austin Powell's Quintet in New York. Williams began using amplification on his fiddle in 1950. He was with Roy Milton's Blues Band in Los Angeles in 1951 and 1952. In 1953, Claude moved back to Kansas City to lead his own combo on fiddle and guitar. Saxophone player Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson was a member of that group. He free-lanced and led bands around Kansas City through the 1960s and did brief stints in Denver and Las Vegas before his return to his Kansas City home in 1969.
Williams toured Europe repeatedly in the 1970s. He worked with pianist Jay McShann, with whom he recorded "The Man From Muskogee" in 1972 for Sackville in Toronto along with Don Thompson on bass and Paul Gunther on drums. It is to be released as a CD in 1995. SteepleChase Records recorded "Call For The Fiddler" with Horace Parlan on piano, Lars Blach on guitar, Hugo Rasmussen on bass and Hans Nymand on drums in Copenhagen in 1976.
In 1980, Classic Jazz released "Fiddler's Dream" with Jay McShann and Andre Persiany alternating on piano, Gus Johnson on drums and Gene Ramey on bass. This was the last recording to feature Claude's guitar work. Since then, he has stayed exclusively with the violin. "Claude Williams' Kansas City Giants" was made with Frank Smith on piano, Gerry Leonard on bass and Richard Ross providing drum and vocal work. "Giants" was released on Big Bear in England in 1980. The Frankfurt Swing All Stars recorded "Jive At Five" in 1988 in Germany with Fiddler fronting the band for Bellaphon (CDLR 40025).
"Claude Williams Live at J's, Parts 1 and 2," (Arhoolie CD 405 and CD 406), arguably considered his best recordings at the time, were recorded in 1989 in New York and released in 1993. Ron Mathews is on piano, AI McKibbon on bass, James Chirillo on guitar and Akira Tana alternates with Grady Tate on drums. Mathews, McKibbon and Tate were working with Claude in "Black and Blue" at the time of this recording.
"Black and Blue" was conceived as a revue of original Black American art forms for presentation in Paris with Fiddler in its orchestra. It moved to Broadway, played for several years and earned Tony awards. On stage were the very best Black dancers and female vocalists, and behind them a showcase orchestra. Claude Williams had seniority in that eighteen member unit, which included Sir Roland Hanna, Bill Easley and Earl May substituting on bass.
Claude Williams tries to perform music that anyone can enjoy. Ashe says, he doesn't like to "play music over people's heads." While everything he plays contains his own inventions, he always winds his way back to the basic melodies. The result is music so friendly and engaging that folk audiences have come to appreciate him. The National Council for the Traditional Arts featured Claude in "Masters of the Folk Violin" multi-city tours in 1989, 1994 and 1995. In May of 1994 he made his first journey to Australia as part of a "Living Traditions" tour and a "Violin Summit" in connection with the Brisbane Biennial Festival. Media there described him as "the last of the great swing fiddlers" and "the last great Black jazz violinist."
Claude's Oklahoma roots were acknowledged in 1989 when he was one of the first to be inducted into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame. In 1994 he accepted the first and only Charlie Christian Jazz Award from Black Liberated Arts, Inc., in Oklahoma City. Williams was born in Oklahoma, but he and his wife Blanche have long considered Kansas City, Missouri, to be home. In October of 1993 he joined members of K. C.'s Charlie Parker Foundation on a special S. S. Norway cruise dedicated to Dizzy Gillespie. His band on that cruise included Earl May and Joe Ascione.
Mr. Williams still works his territory with regular visits to the internationally acclaimed blues center, The Zoo Bar in Lincoln, Nebraska. National Public Radio's JazzSet featured Claude, Jim Cidlik's vocals and keyboards and Steve Hanson's guitar work at the Zoo on NPR in November of 1994.
Along with release of this CD, 1995 will bring more honors and diverse performances for Claude. Amherst University is to present him with its Distinguished Achievement Award, as it has to Max Roach, Dorothy Donegan and others. After participating in Mark O'Connor's first fiddle camp in the summer of 1994, Mark has asked Williams to spend as much time as possible at his camp in the summer of 1995. He may tour Spain and France in the summer also. Asleep at the Wheel, the swing band that emulates the spirit of Bob Wills, intends to schedule appearances with Williams as a guest.
The American Federation of Jazz Societies has included Claude in its new Statesmen of Jazz Touring program to be launched in 1995. The project will assemble musicians who are national treasures to play festivals and conduct clinics in connection with them. Other stellar musicians recruited for the project are Milt Hinton, Benny Waters, Red Richards, Earl May, Al Grey, Jane Jarvis, Doc Cheatham and Arvell Shaw. The Sacramento Jazz Festival has engaged the Statesmen of Jazz for May of 1995.
This CD was recorded on Labor Day, September 5,1994. Claude's group performed a concert at the Nelson Art Gallery in Kansas City a few days prior. He flew in the next day and went directly to the Manhattan studio of Jacques Lowe, former personal photographer for John F. Kennedy. Lowe's current project, titled Jazz: Masters of the Art, is due out in 1995. It will include Claude's portrait. The cover photo for this CD was taken the same day.
Buddy Tate, the great Texas tenor sax player who began a long relationship with the Count Basie Orchestra in 1939, received a visit from Claude at his Long Island home the following day. Williams friendship with Buddy spans nearly seven decades. They both insist they knew Basie "before he could Count.” Tate told Claude about the first time he saw him perform with T. Holder's Twelve Clouds of Joy in 1927. Buddy was living in Sherman, Texas. He skipped school to earn fifty cents shining shoes in order to pay bus fare to go see Claude in nearby Denison, Texas. "My Buddy” is dedicated to Tate on this CD.
Claude's “Swingin' the Blues” concert took place that evening in Babylon, NY. It was produced by the oldest non-profit jazz organization in the U.S, International Art of Jazz, and was made possible by founder and director Ann Sneed. Claude was backed by Bill Easley on tenor sax and clarinet, Earl May on bass, Frank Vignola on guitar and Joe Ascione on drums.
For all but the guitarist, "Swingin' the Blues" was a warm-up for the Labor Day recording session the next day. Engineer Carl Seltzer's Studio has a fine 1909 Steinway piano, which Sir Roland Hanna agreed to play.
Bill Easley directed this recording session and played tenor sax, flute and clarinet. Bill played tenor with George Benson in the late 1960s, then spent the 1970s as a session musician for many major Rhythm and Blues artists on the Stax and Hi labels in Memphis. He first worked with the Ellington Orchestra in the mid 1970s, as he still does. Bill's third recording as a leader is not yet released, but should bring him some much-deserved attention. His sextet on that CD includes Ron Carter, Billy Higgins and George Coleman.
Now living in New York, Easley plays with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band. He works in the stage orchestras of Broadway plays such as Sophisticated Ladies, Jelly's Last Jam, and Black and Blue. It was the original version of Black and Blue in Paris where he got to know Claude Williams as a musician and "hanging buddy.”
Sir Roland Hanna's versatile piano skills as soloist, orchestrator and writer, are known and respected throughout the jazz world. He was music director for Sarah Vaughn for two years and accompanist for Carmen McRae. He has over 50 albums and 400 compositions of his own. He writes and plays music for cello, the instrument he previously recorded on at the studio where this CD was made.
Currently a professor at Queens College, Sir Roland's most recent recordings are “Roland Hanna Quartet Plays Gershwin” (LRC LTD '93); “Sir Roland Hanna: Duke Ellington Piano Solos” (MusicMasters, '91), and “Sir Roland Hanna, Maybeck Recital Series Volume 3211 (Concord '94). Mr. Hanna's powerful left hand is well-suited to Kansas City swing. Along with it, his on-going musical relationship with each of the players and his respect for Claude Williams all enhanced this recording.
Earl May was the first choice as bassist for this project after really falling into a groove with Claude on the S.S. Norway cruise in 1993. Earl is the most sensitive and accommodating bassist in jazz, blues and swing, making everyone he works with sound better. He studied with Charles Mingus and worked with Charlie Parker and John Coltrane and spent eight years with Dr. Billy Taylor. Earl's own groups have included Larry Willis and Al Foster.
May's career includes recording and working with Dizzy Gillespie, Cab Calloway, Tommy Flanagan and Charles Brown He spent two years as musical director for singer Ruth Brown. Earl has a special appreciation for vocalists, and really gets a kick out of Claude Williams' singing. Earl and Claude both hope to work together a great deal in the future.
Joe Ascione was the drummer on the S.S. Norway Cruise in 1993 backing Williams with May and Lloyd Mayers on piano. These men still consider that band a perfect combination. Joe's work on the Telarc Label with Travelin' Light was described by Downbeat Magazine, saying, "Ascione brushed a trapkit's worth of color from his snare."
Ascione has performed with James Moody, Herb Ellis, Milt Hinton, Cab Calloway, Della Reese, Jimmy McGriff, and young guitar ace Frank Vignola. Vignola's most recent album for Concord is called "Let It Happen." The title track was written by Joe Ascione and was also performed by Joe and Frank following Claude's group on the same JazzSet program that featured both groups on NPR.
The one day spent in the studio to produce this CD was an astounding display of professionalism by all participants. A point was made to use songs Claude had never recorded before. He sang on four of them to satisfy the growing number of his vocal fans. Of these 14 songs, 11 were done in only one completed take. The remaining three tunes were done on the second attempt.
In the three remaining days that Claude spent in New York City he was heard on two live radio shows, gave one recorded interview, taught a few violin lessons, began editing this recording, and performed at Downstairs at the Metropolis with Earl May, Joe Ascione and others. Jazz historian and Grammy-winner Phil Schaap considered that show "one of the best jazz evenings ever”
Williams flew to Michigan the next day, where his Swing String Trio with Rod Fleeman on guitar and Bob Bowman on bass headlined the Wheatland Music Festival for two days. The producer praised the trio, but said some fans complained. They had heard there would be an 86-year-old fiddler performing. So where was that old fiddler?
After nine days away, Claude returned to his Kansas City home, where he maintains an active schedule. "Don't Get Around Much Anymore” was not written about this man.
Of retirement, he says, “I don't see any reason to quit playing. I'll be doing this at least till I get to a hundred and something. You know, I ain't got far to go. But I'm still going to be playing, as long as I have good ideas, and can play as I do.” Those who follow his work agree that he is still growing and improving, on violin as well as vocals. New observers normally dispute his age.
I hope that each of you can witness the boundless wit, energy and charm of a live Claude Williams performance. But please, don't go expecting to see an old violinist!
Hot Jazz Management
"Claude Williams King of Kansas City"
Liner notes 1996
King of Kansas City. Is this some sort of a challenge? Who could claim to have such an historic jazz center as his domain? Claude Williams is much too modest to use such a title, but it is appropriate. Invite him to a casual get-together and he'll arrive dressed to meet heads of state. Invite him to a jazz jam session and he will look elegant, while smiling and cut- ting one horn player after another.
For as long as Kansas City has been trading cattle, it's musicians have been busy trading musical inventions and expertise. The graciousness and generosity with which Williams shares his "tricks" and knowledge exemplifies that Kansas City jamming spirit.
Claude Williams settled in Kansas City in 1928, when it was a cradle of dance music for the world. He has based himself there with minor interrup- tions ever since. As he continues to travel the world, he always proudly dis- plays what he calls his "Kansas City Stamp." For an overview of Claude's historic life, please refer to his previous CD, "SwingTime in New York," on Progressive (PCD-7093). These notes will serve to update that writing.
Currently available recordings of Claude Williams were made in New York, Toronto, and in a great variety of locations on tour, but nothing from his legendary home town. This recording is designed to fill that void. Musicians gathered for his highness' royal court are all proud, long-time residents of Kansas City. It is hoped that this release will allow the rest of the world to know them better. Musical director and guitarist Rod Fleeman and bassist Bob Bowman have worked with Claude in recent years when- ever the band originates in KC as the Claude Williams Swing String Trio.
On May 28 and 29, 1996, Ron Ubell welcomed the Swing String Trio and friends to the finest recording studio in town, the warm-sounding and warm feeling Soundtrek facility on Broadway. Shortly after beginning taping, it not only felt like Kansas City in that studio, but sounded as if we could have been less than three miles away in the landmarked Mutual Musicians Foundation building near 18th & Vine, where jams lasted until sunrise. Even though you hear the history of Kansas City wherever you hear Claude Williams, there was something correct about recording this on that sacred turf.
"Lester Leaps In," the opener on this recording, is an exciting, old fashioned KC cutting contest. It was never scheduled to be on the CD recording session -- it just spontaneously combusted when saxophonist Kim Park and Claude got up to speed in the studio. A gentler version of it is on "SwingTime," but this version is a showdown. When the smoke cleared, there were two winners. For obvious reasons, they chose to do a ballad next.
Lester Young is Claude's primary influence. Claude encountered him in Oklahoma City when Lester was one of the Blue Devils and Claude was a member of Andy Kirk's band. After members of each band more or less insisted on a musical meeting between them, they spent many hours jamming together.
"For All We Know" displays a milder side of Kim Park's fine tenor work. Surely some of the spirit of Lester exists within him. "He's playing more sax than Getz" is how Claude described his mastery on this song. "Claude is my hero" is how Kim answers that. Kim has an early lead on Claude as an educator, as adjunct professor of jazz at UMKC who has also soloed and taught at the North American Saxophonists Alliance and the National Saxophone Conference. In addition, he soloed at the 1996 National Flute Association convention and teaches at four sum- mer jazz camps.
"Saint Louis Blues" brings on Claude Williams the story teller. Nothing fancy here, but message conveyed. Isn't that the definition of an effective vocalist? Both of these opening tracks display Rod Fleeman's splendid guitar work.
"In My Solitude" brings out Concord Record's queen of Kansas City, Karrin Allyson. You can hear Claude, and a handful of the same artists found on this CD, on Karrin's Collage and Azure-Te' Concord releases.
"Smooth Sailing" pares down the group, letting "Fiddler" record one of his favorites for the first time since 1972, when this was recorded on "Man From Muskogee" with Jay McShann for Sackville. That album created greater demand for Claude and Jay, in their sixties at the time, when most begin to consider retirement. For both of them, it was time to continue the best work of their lives!
"Nice Work If You Can Get It" could describe young Lisa Henry's career. Not yet thirty years of age, she has won second place in the 1994 Thelonious Monk Vocal Competition, and has toured Africa twice. Her first CD, "Jam Session" on LRH Productions, was released in 1996.
"Canadian Sunset" evokes the relaxed feeling of watching one go down. The warm sound of Claude's violin was captured as if live by the state-of-the-art Sony C-800 condenser microphone.
Enter the Claude Williams Swing String Trio for another of the king's vocals on "Gee Baby." These three musicians, with Bob Bowman's per- cussive virtuosity shining on bass, have toured extensively.
Then a lean "Exactly Like You" evokes another KC jam with Kim Park's sax calling and responding to Williams' violin as only Todd Strait's brushes are added.
Lisa Henry returns for "Fine and Mellow," paying tribute to Lady Day, who began to reach her widest audiences as she made it popular. Lisa's rich voice reminds us that Kansas City is also a blues center.
Karrin Allyson returns on an upbeat "Them There Eyes," trading Ella- esque scatting and singing with the maestro's fiddle licks. Featured guests sit out while the quartet plays "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, and we get to enjoy the relaxed interplay of the three string instrumentalists.
Kim Park rejoins us for an impressive encore, this time on his favored alto saxophone on "East of the Sun." Claude and his Kansas City cats now leave listeners somewhere west of the moon, a very good place to be -- as long as you have this recording to listen to.
* * *
"SwingTime in New York," Claude's Ihighly-praised recording for Progressive was released in 1995 with Sir Roland Hanna on piano, Bill Easley on reeds, Earl May on bass and Joe Ascione on drums. Three-and- one-half months after it was recorded, Claude was back in a New York City recording studio again for the Statesmen of Jazz recording session, orga- nized by members of the American Federation of Jazz Societies at Clinton Studios in New York on December 20, 1994. This important recording was made possible by Mat Domber and Maurice Lawrence volunteering efforts to create a band of over-65-year-olds still playing in top form. Benny Waters, Clark Terry, AI Grey, Jane Jarvis, Milt Hinton, Buddy Tate, Joe Wilder, Panama Francis and Claude Williams also contributed over 600 years worth of musicianship. Proceeds go directly into the Statesmen touring fund.
Plans are set for a September tour of Japan for the Statesmen, includ- ing Claude Williams - who has never missed a Statesmen gig - along with Louis Bellson, Harry "Sweets" Edison, Benny Waters, AI Grey, Earl May, Jane Jarvis, Rick Fay and Irv Stokes. The Statesmen have appeared in Sacramento, New Jersey, Los Angeles, New York, Sarasota, and other cities. Normally clinics are performed for students in each location. This is important to Claude, who has been teaching more than ever lately.
Claude will share his unique swing style for the fourth consecutive year at Mark O'Connor's Fiddle Camp. Since Claude's involvement in the first camp in 1994, he has been teaching many more individual lessons along with master classes at places such as the Manhattan School of Music and the high school in his birthplace, Muskogee, Oklahoma.
Study guides were prepared for Washington, DC, students who came to see and hear Claude on his 89th birthday at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. Along with personal greetings from President Clinton, governors, mayors, senators and congressmen, Claude was given an armload of hand-made cards by the students who'd come to see him as a special Black History Month field trip. Displaying his undiminished stamina, Williams played seven sets in two days last February surrounding that visit. Bassist Keter Betts has been an important part of all of Claude's recent DC visits, including the evenings at the Willard Hotel Nest that rounded out his birthday visit.
Just before his birthday, Claude Williams began 1997 by touring ten European cities in thirteen days with Red Richards on piano, Norris Turney on saxophone, Joe Ascione on drums and Dave Green on bass. He went straight from Switzerland to the Lone Star State to re-join multi-instrumen- tal swing legend Johnny Gimble for a third recent visit to Texas hosted by Texas Folklife resources.
Claude's home state honored him by making him one of its first inductees into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame in 1989. The first Charlie Christian Award was then presented to him in Oklahoma City in 1995. On April 18, 1997, he was brought back to his birthplace to be one of the first four inductees into the new Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame, which will be built in Muskogee. The others were Woody Guthrie, Patti Page and Merle Haggard.
Williams traveled to New York many times since the 1944 recording of his Progressive "SwingTime" CD there, most notably to perform in a JVC , Festival concert in 1996. The New York Times described his performance, "Mr. Williams swiveled between the down-home turns of the blues and agile mock-classical figurations. He made the instrument a smooth-talking tease, sly and ebullient, with phrases that sounded like classy, witty wolf whistles." He also performed that year at Carnegie Hall with Jay McShann, Christian McBride and Kenny Washington in a concert called "Eastwood After Hours - A Night of Jazz." This fall Warner Brothers will release an album and a tele- vision special with that title. He will visit New York to participate in "Keep on Swinging," part of Dick Hyman's fine "Jazz in July" series. Beginning September 11, National Public Radio will send an hour-long show, "Jazz Profiles: A Tribute To Claude Williams" to 175 stations in the U.S. for broad- cast that week. His first visit to Japan is set for 1997, and plans are being made for his first tour of South America in 1998.
Kansas City, however, still might be the best place to hear Claude Williams. Over thirty rooms still keep a regular jazz schedule there. The Club at Plaza III features Claude at least monthly, in the heart of the historic Country Club Plaza district. This is a favorite room of all of the musicians heard on this CD, for Kansas City steaks as well as full-flavored jazz. Joe Wilcox makes a point of preserving KC's swing tradition by booking the greatest local talent there.
Wherever you are able to hear the man Illinois Jacquet calls "the swing- ing-est violinist in jazz" in performance you will experience what the December, 1996 JazzTimes dubbed "the power of unabashed swing."
Special thanks to Blanche Williams for always having good taste, and to the Kansas City Jazz Ambassadors, Wilma Dobie, Chip Deffaa, Chuck Haddix, Chuck Berg, Calvin Wilson, Ginny & Ruth, Andy Rowan, Jay McShann and everyone who keeps Kansas City Swinging. Claude Wiliams booking information Hot Jazz Management (212) 586-8125
Claude Williams, violin, vocals
Kim Park, saxophone
Bob Bowman, bass
Rod Fleeman, guitar
Todd Strait, drums
Karrin Allyson, vocals
Lisa Henry, vocals
1. LESTER LEAPS IN - 5:24
(Lester Young) 1939
2. FOR ALL WE KNOW - 4:32
(J. Fred Coots - Sam M. Lewis) 1934
3. ST. LOUIS BLUES - 4:13
vocal, Claude Williams (W. C. Handy) 1914
4. SOLITUDE - vocal, Karrin Allyson - 4:43
(Duke Ellington - Eddie DeLange & Irving Mills) 1934
5. SMOOTH SAILING - 2:50
(Arnett Cobb) 1941
6. NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT - 3:25
vocal, Lisa Henry (George Gershwin - Ira Gershwin)
Film: A Damsel in Distress, 1937
7. CANADIAN SUNSET - 4:16
(Eddie Heywood - Norman Gimbel) 1956
8. GEE BABY, AIN'T I GOOD TO YOU? - 4:01
vocal, Claude Williams (Don Redman - Andy Razaf & Don Redman) 1929
9. EXACTLY LIKE YOU - 3:27
(Jimmy McHugh - Dorothy Fields) Lew Leslie's International Revue, 1930
10. FINE AND MELLOW - vocal, Lisa Henry - 5:12
(Billie Holidav) 1940
11. THEM THERE EYES - vocal. Karrin Allyson - 3:25
(Maceo Pinkard, William Tracey, Doris Trauber) 1933
12. SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES - 3:17
(Jerome Kern - Otto Harbach) Musical: Roberta, 1933
13. EAST OF THE SUN (AND WEST OF THE MOON) - 3:28
(Brooks Bowman) Princeton University
Triangle Club Revue: Stags at Bay, 1934
* Karrin Allyson appears courtesy of Concord Records.
* Todd Strait uses Avedis Zildjian Cymbals exclusively.
Recording produced by Claude Williams and Russ Dantzler on May 28 & 29,1996
Soundtrek Recording Studios, Kansas City, Missouri. Engineer: Ron Ubell
Text and photographs by Russ Dantzler
Compact disc pre mastering by Parker Dinkins for MasterDigital Corp.
Produced by George H. Buck, Jr.
Production coordinator, Wendell Echols
January 23, 1902 - August 11, 1998
| New York, August 16 -- World-renowned saxophone powerhouse,
vocalist, arranger and composer Benny Waters died after a heart attack at
Howard County General Hospital in Columbia, Maryland Tuesday morning,
August 11, at 9:03 a.m. A wake will be held on Monday, August 17,
9:30-11:00 a.m. at the Snowden Funeral Home, 246 North Washington Street,
Rockville, Maryland, (301)762-2500, where a service follows from 11:00 a.m.
to noon. Interment at Ash Memorial Cemetery in Sandy Spring, MD., will
A memorial was held Wednesday, September 9 at 7:30 p.m. at Saint Peter's
Lutheran Church, 619 Lexington Ave (at 54th St.), New York, NY 10022. Donations in Benny's name can be sent to the Saint Peter's Jazz Ministry Fund.
Benjamin Arthur Waters was born in Brighton, Maryland on January
23, 1902 to Edward and Francis Waters, the youngest of seven children.
Benny never chose to have a family. Among Waters' survivors are nieces and
nephews: Elizabeth Gross, Mabel Hagans, Clarice Mayers and Kenneth Awkward.
Waters recording career began with Charlie Johnson's band 70 years
ago. Benny Carter later cut his first sides next to him in that band, and
Waters recorded with Joe "King" Oliver. He recorded with Hot Lips Page,
Jimmy Lunceford, Memphis Slim and in 1994 with the Statesmen of Jazz,
including Claude "Fiddler" Williams and Al Grey. (The Statesmen toured
Japan last September with Benny and return this October). The last CD he
recorded as a leader was made live on the occasion of his 95th birthday for
Enja, "Benny Waters Birdland Birthday: Live at 95." It was one of seven he
led on since 1980.
Jazz authorities indicate that Benny was one of only six survivors
of jazz recordings in the 1920s who were still active, along with Claude "Fiddler" Williams, Benny Carter, Lionel Hampton, Spiegel Willcox and Rosy
McHargue. Now there are five.
HIGHLIGHTS OF BENNY WATERS' APPEARANCES
Nov 18: Enja North American release Benny Waters Birdland Birthday - Live at 95 CD
Nov 25: Teaching and playing at Princeton University for Phil Schaap's classes, with Genevieve Rose - bass, Bucky Pizzarell i- guitar.
Dec 17: Duke Ellington Society Christmas party, Saint Peter's Church, 54th & Lexington, NYC, Benny Waters Quintet featuring pianist Cyrus Chestnut, and bassist Genevieve Rose.
Jan 10: IAJE Benny Waters "Evolution of the Jazz Saxophone Style" clinic; Also featuring Genevieve Rose-bass, James Weidman-piano, Greg Caputo-drums Marriott Marquis, New York City
Jan 23-25: Benny Waters All-Star 96th Birthday Party, The New Jazz Standard, 116 E 27th St (Park-Lex, NYC) featuring Grady Tate - drums, Sir Roland Hanna - piano, ArvelL Shaw - bass, Frank Vignola - guitar (Jan 23, 1902, is birth date)
March 20-22: Benny Waters is honored & performs at Mat Domber's Int'l March of Jazz 1998, Clearwater Beach, FL. Featuring Dick Hyman, Ralph Sutton, Howard Alden, Bucky Pizzarelli, Kenny Davern, Bob Wilber, Joe Ascione, Dave Frishberg
March 31-April 5: Benny Waters Quartet, with Truck Parham - bass, Phil Thomas - drums, John Young - piano. Joe Segal's Jazz Showcase, Chicago, IL.
TO ORDER NEW RELEASE, Benny Waters Birdland Birthday - "Live at 95", Call (212) 586-8125, or Send $15 for each CD + $3 handling for an order of any size to: Russ Dantzler, 328 West 43rd ST, Ste 4F, New York, NY 10036
Benny Waters Birdland Birthday - "Live at 95" with Howard Alden - guitar, Eddie Locke - drums, Earl May - bass & Mike LeDonne - organ & piano, Enja ENJ-9321, Tracks: Exactly Like Me, Blues Amore, Everybody Loves My Baby, Besame Mucho, I Cried Because I Love You, Callin' the Cats, I'm in the Mood for Love, Jungle Blues, Misty.
From Wilma Dobie, ‘Statesmen of Jazz,' August 17, 1998
Fellow Jazzmen Bid Buddy Benny Waters Farewell
At his funeral services held today in Cumberland, Maryland, the world's oldest jazz musician, Benny Waters, 96, was given hail and farewell from fellow musicians from the ‘Statesmen of Jazz' Tour with whom he appeared nationally and internationally from the time of its launching in ‘95.
The farewell was the following statement which was read by Don McCathran, charter member of the Duke Ellington Society, Washington, D.C. Services were held at the Snowden Funeral Home in Cumberland, Maryland.
"Statesmen of Jazz" Pay Tribute to Beloved Statesman Benny Waters
I'm here today on behalf of the Statesmen of Jazz, an organization of living legends of jazz of which Benny was a charter member, to pay tribute to him.
Age as age did little to affect the inherent genius of Benny Waters. I think we could say that's because the incredible Benny wouldn't allow time to interfere with his long, remarkable life.
Most of us here today remembering our beloved Benny might think like the New York magazine writer reflecting on Benny's 95th birthday - "Most 95-year-olds would consider themselves lucky to have the strength to go see a jazz concert, let alone give one. But that's how alto sax legend Benny Waters celebrates his 95th with a three-night stand!"
In his New York Times obit on Benny, jazz writer Ben Ratliff reflected: "... his phrasing still had the signature of a man who was a contender in the 1930's; his rounded, swooping alto saxophone lines and plush vibrato advertised his authenticity as surely as the stylish American diction heard in James Cagney movies."
As a "sax legend" Benny Waters was and will continue to be always a living legend as the Patriarch of the "Statesmen of Jazz." The buoyant Benny Waters was very much in the limelight when the "Statesmen" were launched nationally and internationally in the Spring of ‘95.
Along with fellow "legends" they are dedicated to perpetuating the creative achievements of musicians 65 years and older, now and yesteryears, who have contributed and are continuing to give their talents to "Jazz - An American National Treasure."
From the time the Statesmen were launched in the Spring of ‘95, Patriarch Benny never missed performing in a single one of its concerts playing before standing-room-only audiences during its nationwide and international appearances. He was warmly received by Japanese jazz fans last October and they were eagerly looking forward to his return this fall with the "Statesmen of Jazz Japan Reunion Tour."
And I would like to pause now to bring to your attention our good Japanese jazz friends who are here to join us in remembering Benny. They had hoped to see and talk with Benny here in Maryland before his return to Japan this fall with the "Statesmen of Jazz." They are now sadly here to join us remembering Benny Waters.
Now, please let me read the very touching letter of sympathy the "Statesmen" received from Mr. Tadao Nogami who is the co-producer in Tokyo of the "Statesmen of Jazz Japan Reunion Tour."
"I have learned with profound sorrow that our beloved great Statesman of Jazz, Benny has passed away and I know no words to comfort your people now under the deepest grief.
I herewith pray for the repose of the departed spirit and tender to the "Statesmen of Jazz" my heartfelt condolences on the sad event."
President Clinton had Benny's magnetic appeal in mind this past January when he sent congratulations to him at his 96th birthday celebration performance - ... yes, once again Benny was playing... not sitting back eating cake - Said President Clinton, "Over the course of your long and remarkable career, you have helped broaden the horizons of jazz and have made it one of our most sought after international exports."
A few months ago -
Tuesday through next Sunday 3/31-4/5/98 Jazz Showcase
listing from the Chicago Reader
When I turn 96 I'll be thrilled if I can still listen to a driving, bluesy,
blustery, inventive alto sax--let alone play one, as Benny Waters does.
Waters, who recently returned to the U.S. after 40 years in Paris, started
out pretty much when jazz did, learning to play alongside such long-gone
legends as King Oliver, Jimmie Lunceford, and Fletcher Henderson. (Blessed
with good health, Waters quit smoking in 1935 and stopped drinking in 1969;
he went blind after unsuccessful cataract surgery only a few years ago.)
Yet on his ridiculously enjoyable new album--Birdland Birthday: Live at 95
(Enja), recorded last year--Waters still plays with exuberance and elan,
compressing the century into one disorienting hour of music. He plays with
a tangy and assured tone, uses fillips of technique to spark already
sprightly solo lines, and fondly recalls the combination of courtliness and
ribaldry that marked the swing-era altoists in general. And when he sings,
as he does at least once a set, you would swear you're hearing a youngster
in his 60s. But remember, from Waters's perspective, World War I isn't
really history, Basie and Ellington count as avant-garde contemporaries,
and a career in music preceded the expectation of ever hearing your Edison
cylinders over that contraption Marconi was fooling with around the time
you were born. --NEIL TESSER
Benny Waters Does Kansas City
Reprinted with permission from KC Jazz Ambassador Magazine (JAM)
On March 6, 1997, the KCJA along with Unity Temple on the Plaza presented 95 year old sax master, Benny Waters and 81 year old pianist, composer (300+ ASCAP tunes), and arranger, Jane Jarvis in concert. While the audience was small (under 200), this was a powerful evening of current jazz sounds. The audience was mesmerized. While they may have expected music from the older set with touches of frailty, they got one of those exciting, jazz and entertainment surprises of their life from Waters and Jarvis.
Benny and Jane, both members of the American Federation of Jazz Societies (AFJS) Statesmen of Jazz group, have played together frequently. Neither had played with bassist Gerald Spaits or drummer Tommy Ruskin. With little more than one hour together to develop the show, the four musicians seemed to melt into one giant spiritual personality.
These two walking jazz history books (along with Ruskin and Spaits) had driven their excellence to the audience by intermission time. All you had to do to understand their acceptance was look at the lines of people buying CDs.
Behind the scenes, Benny and Jane were as impressive as in public. Jane came in from Florida and Benny from New York. You would expect them to be tired after a long day's travel. (I usually am.) It seemed that they were ready for whatever happened, like the KSHB-TV interview on 15 minutes notice at about 9:00 p.m. while having dinner at the hotel restaurant.
While driving from the airport, I commented to Benny that it sounded like he had a great three-day 95th birthday party at New York's Birdland Jazz Club (a recording session for his new CD on Enja). He said, "Ya, and after that I went to New Orleans and recorded another one with some other guys. That one took a long time to do. Mine only took six hours!"
Having not been in KC since the late forties, Benny was very curious about the KC jazz scene. After I gave him a brief summary, he started telling what it used to be like when he came here with the Jimmy Lunceford band. He said, "We used to have thousands come to our gigs. They were dances in those days. We went everywhere. We even got two or three thousand people in Great Bend, KS. We'd get crowds like that in Wichita and in Oklahoma.
Speaking about retirement, he said, "I'm already retired. I'm not looking for work. I've quit working several times. But the one thing I have not done is quit practicing. I play every day for bare minimum of an hour. And, I don't practice the things I'm good at. I work on the things I'm not good at or things I've never done before.
Benny's future plans included a summer trip back to Europe and hopefully, a trip to Japan with the Statesmen of Jazz in September. Several TV appearances are in the works and a CD release party will probably be scheduled for fall 97.
Jane had recently completed the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival and several clinics associated with the festival. She and Lionel, one of her best friends, are currently working on several jazz education projects together and looking forward to next year's festival.
Jane spoke about how long she had been playing jazz and what got her interested in jazz. She commented, "You don't learn to play jazz. You've got it or you don't. I guess we do teach it today. But you've got to have it first. I don't remember not loving jazz and not being able to play it. -- Dean Hampton