Tony Williams Day

December 12, 1945 – February 23, 1997

A tribute to an influential drummer

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Drummer Anthony Tillman “Tony” Williams was born on December 12, 1945 in Chicago, Illinois.

Williams moved to Boston and studied drums early on with Alan Dawson.

A child prodigy, Williams worked with Sam Rivers when he was just 13 and with Jackie McLean at 16.

In 1963 Williams made his recording debut on albums by McLean, Herbie Hancock and Kenny Dorham before joining the Miles Davis Quintet. 

Tony Williams’ innovative drumming was immediately recognized and encouraged by Davis and he was his drummer for five years.

In addition to his recordings with the trumpeter (from Seven Steps To Heaven to In A Silent Way), Williams was part of such important albums as Eric Dolphy’s Out To Lunch, Kenny Dorham’s Una Mas, Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage, Andrew Hill’s Point Of Departure, and Jackie McLean’s One Step Beyond.

Tony Williams, who led his first album in 1964, left Davis in 1969 to form Lifetime, an early fusion trio with guitarist John McLaughlin and organist Larry Young; a later version featured guitarist Allan Holdsworth.

Open throughout his career to the avant-garde and fusion, Williams was part of Herbie Hancock’s all-star V.S.O.P. group in 1976, was heard in a variety of settings, and in 1985 formed a modern hard bop quintet that featured trumpeter Wallace Roney, tenor and soprano-saxophonist Bill Pierce, pianist Mulgrew Miller and several bassists (including Charnett Moffett and Ira Coleman).

A very influential drummer, Tony Williams’ premature death from a heart attack ended his life when he was just 51.

Here is a miniset of the Tony Williams Quintet (with Ira Coleman on bass) from 1989.

-Scott Yanow


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