Buster Williams Quartet

October 21st, 2012

The big guns rolled out for this 2012 Earshot Jazz Festival concert on Saturday night at the Seattle Art Museum Plestcheeff Auditorium. Bassist Buster Williams locked and loaded the jazz love cannon with pianist Patrice Rushin, saxophonist Mark Gross and drummer Ndugu Chancler.

Seattle photographer Michael Craft filled in for me at this concert and I am sorry I could not have been there to hear  and see it. Click on the schedule here 2012 Earshot Jazz Festival  continues.

As a boy, Williams heard bassist Oscar Pettiford solo on a record and the rest is history. His bass-playing father, “Cholly,” was a fan of Slam Stewart and, like Stewart, strung his two basses at a higher pitch so that he didn’t have to reach as far to play high notes. Buster recalls that his father said, “If I restring my bass for you [to the normal tuning], you better be serious!”

Williams was serious. He began working with saxophonist Jimmy Heath in 1959. One month after graduating from high school, the 17-year-old hit the road with saxophonists Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt. Then came gigs with singers Dakota Staton, Betty Carter, Sarah Vaughan and Nancy Wilson. He joined pianist Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi sextet and later the Timeless All Stars and Sphere.

Williams’ strong left hand slides up the bass neck during solo passages, creating his characteristic smooth slurs, glissandos and vibrato. His compositional maturity is on display in “Christina,” with pedal points, contrary motion between bass note and melody, developing melodic motif and emotional relief. No wonder this tune has become a standard among performers.

All this talent and humility too? “You see, I always enjoy playing other people’s music,” Williams says in a 1987 interview. “I don’t enjoy as much playing my music. I hope that someday I will enjoy playing my music as much as I enjoy playing other people’s music.”

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