Tony Williams: My Michelle

23 Feb

Remembering drummer Tony Williams on the day of his death in 1997.

Williams was part of the VSOP — Very Special One Time Performance — recordings, but almost every performance was special if Williams was drumming. He came to New York as a teen in 1963  to work with Jackie McLean; before long he was drumming with Miles Davis through much of the 60s. He worked with Chet Baker and VSOP artists (Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Ron Carter) through the 70s and Hancock through the 80s, but his all-time collaborators included the Doors’ Ray Manzarek, Dexter Gordon on Round Midnight, Eric Dolphy, Branford Marsalis, Mulgrew Miller, John McLaughlin, Sonny Rollins, McCoy Tyner, Weather Report and his own fusion group, Lifetime. Among others.

Williams was only 51 and living on the West Coast when he went to the hospital for gall bladder surgery. He died of a heart attack.

The breadth of his influence can be seen in the many tributes to him over the last 15 years: a Tony Williams Lifetime Band, college scholarships and a jazz festival, among others.

From rock critic Robert Christgau in 1970 on Williams:  “Williams refuses to refer to his music as jazz. Jazz bores him, even the jazz he likes: it’s all too quiet, too conventional, too — can it be? — commercial. So call the Tony Williams Lifetime an ‘electric music quartet.’ “

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