The George Shearing Quartet and Joe Williams, with the Junior Mance Trio, British Tour - September October 1962 007
Pages 10 and 11 of a programme for the George Shearing Quintet, Joe Williams and Junior Mance Trio tour of Great Britain September - October 1962. Jazz singer Joe Williams is profiled on both pages.
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ï»¿JAZZ musicians are never very charitable about the people who sing in the same group or band as they do, and the reasons are not hard to find. The musician knows that what he is playing is the result of several years' study of an instrumental keyboard, endless hours of experiment to see what will and what will not work, study of such nebulous things as harmonic progressions, vibrato, dynamics, mouthpieces, ensemble techniques, and the art of improvisation. The singer, on the other hand, has no such concrete background. A few of the better-known jazz singers have had some instrumental ability. Sarah Vaughanâs piano playing is one obvious example which springs to mind. But generally singers are markedly inferior in their theoretic knowledge of music.
This is not to say that they are therefore bad singers, but there is no denying that a long thorough training is a distinct advantage whether you want to play Nola on the tuba or sing Lover Man without accidentally modulating. Now the British were starved for many years of American jazz artistes. For a whole generation we were all protected from the influence of American jazz so thoroughly that our jazz musicians fell sadly behind the times and had to try to learn their craft at second-hand. When eventually the ban
on American jazzmen was lifted, the local reaction was rather like that of a starving man who suddenly catches sight of a lamb chop. All we wanted was jazz, big band, small group, solo piano, anything you liked, so long as it was the real thing.
Perhaps therefore we were to be pardoned for growing impatient when the jazz programmes were interruptedâfor that was how we looked at itâ by vocal numbers featuring people who didnât play an instrument. No matter who was involved, we would rather hear some instrumental playing than some singing. Sometimes, of course, we were quite right, for not every so-called jazz singer to visit this country has been exactly a Bessie Smith or a Billie Holiday. At other times we were not so right, and now and then we even accepted vocalists with the big bands, but they had to be very good.
The Count Basie band has been the most frequent visitor of all to this country since the ban was lifted in 1956. And with the band, several times, came Joe Williams, a singer who appeared, at least so far as we were concerned, overnight with a hit record. We soon realised that Joe Williams was Basieâs biggest commercial asset, that his popularity had had a great deal to do with Basieâs amazing comeback during the 1950s,
and that Williams himself was more than just a timefiller on concerts. Even those who came to see Basie with sad thoughts in their heads about the good old days of Jimmie Rushing, found Williams at least acceptable.
All this was a great compliment to Williamsâ ability as an artiste. He had virtually everything against him, and he took very little time to become popular with British audiences. How does such a singer suddenly appear out of nowhere, to take his place in one of the best big bands in jazz history? A glance at the record books reveals, not for the first time, that the overnight success was in fact the result of years of diligent climbing, of experience with all types of groups under all kinds of conditions, and that Williamsâ arrival with the Count Basie band was the culmination of a long career and not a lucky fluke which happened to pay off.
Joe Williams was born in a place called Cordele, Georgia, in December 1918, which makes him a Saggitarian, along with Noel Coward and Ludwig Van Beethoven. In 1922 the Williams family moved north to Chicago, which has been Williamsâ second home town ever since. It was there that he made his professional debut as a singer in 1937, and there also that he worked for a spell with the Jimmy Noone band, in fact, most of the jobs in which Williams is listed are followed by the name Chicago.
In the 1940s he began to move up in status, working with accepted jazz figures, and no doubt learning all the time such mysterious arts as how to make a vocal swing, and when to take liberties with the written melody line. In 1941, Coleman Hawkins took a big band into Chicagoâs CafÃ© Society, and he took Joe Williams as the vocalist. From there he went into the Lionel Hampton band, and followed this with a road tour featuring the Andy Kirk band, a group known to bookers, advertising copywriters and the general public by the euphemistic sub-title of The Clouds of Joy.
These had all been larger groups, but after Kirk came a job with almost the smallest group possible, the boogie-woogie piano duet of Pete Johnson and Albert Ammons. No doubt this experience did a great deal to educate Williams in the blues. After the boogie-woogie episode. Joe worked in the night clubs with Red Saunders, which brings us to the end of the decade which might be called his professional apprenticeship.
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