TATUM'S ULTIMATUM - Jessica Williams, solo piano. A total blast from beginning to end. A major release on Red and Blue. All new original studio takes of these compositions - THIS ALBUM IS AVAILABLE: BUY
(NOTE: This album is NOT sped up, digitalized, or in any way "faked". It is "at real speed", played by Jessica in "real time" on a real 7-foot Knabe concert grand. There are NO digital enhancements involved.) A dedication to the pianist who many referred to as "God", Jessica goes fast, faster, and fasterer, and has a great time paying tribute to Mr Art Tatum. It's audacious, melodic, humorous, challenging, and, more than anything else, it's fun. "It's FUN! Where do I go to hear cocktail piano like this?!?" - Doug Ramsey, noted jazz critic for JazzTimes
2 Can't get Started
4 I Never Knew
5 Embraceable You
7 Ballad for Art Tatum (JJW Music/ASCAP)
8 Squeeze me
9 Easy Livin'
10 Drivin' me Crazy
11 Ain't She Sweet
Tatum's Ultimatum - Jessica Williams, solo piano - A Tribute to the great pianist Art Tatum. Running time 51 minutes. All new, never heard before original studio takes of these compositions. ©2007 Red and Blue Recordings
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Reviewed by Dan McClenaghan, 2008
Rule Number 1 of writing a music review: try to be at least half as creative and spontaneous as the music at hand. Rule Number 2: If it's Jessica Williams' music you're writing about, good luck with Rule Number 1.
Pianist Jessica Williams is another one of those jazz artists who hasn't received the acclaim she deserves. With forty years of professional playing and fifty albums to her credit, she doesn't boast a top-of-the-line profile of the Keith Jarrett or Herbie Hancock or Chick Corea variety. Maybe it's because she never played with Miles Davis. Players got launched out of those bands. Maybe it's geographical—she's been west coast-based since 1977. Maybe it's a “woman in a man's world” thing.
But the why of it doesn't really matter. The music matters, and the music that Williams, after a long career, has made in this century (to slice a nice chunk off the ongoing effort) puts her in the top level of jazz pianists. Her Live at Yoshi's, Volume 1 (MaxJazz, 2004) and Songs for A New Century (Origin Records, 2008) showcase an artist blossoming into her prime in terms of artistic self assurance, spontaneity and the pure joy of creating beautiful sounds.
Which brings us to Tatum's Ultimatum, Williams solo piano tribute to the great Art Tatum. Tatum (1909-1956) was a technically brilliant pianist who took, in part, Fats Waller's stride foundation and ran with it, spruced it up and added a million fast notes and a bunch of exuberance. His art was joyous, flashy and full of life. And Jessica Williams takes his stylistic approach and runs with it.
Williams doesn't copy Tatum, but she gets into his spirit, and sounds as if she's having the time of her life on a bunch of tunes that Tatum played, including Sidney Bechet's “Petite Fleur,” Gershwin's “Embraceable You,” “Can't Get Started,” and “Easy Living.” She, like Tatum, can play fast, exploding with right hand bursts of bird song notes, each key touch clear and clean and separate, even at ninety miles per hour. There is, always, a twinkle-in-the-eye elegance to her approach that she roots firmly in a tradition and shades with her own colorful musicality.
Williams has positioned herself in the top level of current jazz pianists and, with discs like Songs for a New Century and Tatum's Ultimatum, she has established herself as the top solo pianist working today.
Reviewed by Doug Ramsey, Sept 27, 2007
"When Jessica Met Glenn" by Doug Ramsey, JazzTimes
Jessica Williams is in love with Glenn Gould and doesn't care who knows it. Here's an excerpt from the latest entry in her blog, The Zone:
One night I was on a popular video sharing site (YouTube) and decided to watch and listen to Glenn Gould. I was dumbstruck. His music entered me and stayed there. It wasn't what he was playing, it was the way he was playing it. I had never heard Bach played with such fullness and passion and gentleness. He caressed Bach, where most pianists play Bach like robots. They make it sound so mechanical. I know it was the way I was taught. To play the two and three part Inventions, one had to sit up perfectly straight, force your hands to emulate little claws, and play tic-toc tic-toc like a metronome. Like a machine. Hating math as I did, I certainly didn't take to Bach. It wasn't MUSIC to me. I found Miles and Trane shortly after that, and spent the next fifty years believing that I hated Bach and all those "dead guys".
There's more to the affair than that. From passion for Gould, Williams builds an essay that challenges what she sees as a massive general fault in the cultural establishment, including many listeners.
When one improvises within the style of the early masters (read "dead" to detractors) one is also improvising within a style. The style, the rules, the framework are different. But it's no less real, and, if done by one knowing the vocabulary, it is VALID. It is true art, true music. There is a disease afflicting art and music, and it is not new. It is becoming more common, though. It is the need to put every single creation into a box, have a pre-made label handy for any contribution, and to dismiss, out of turn, anything that falls outside of one's "tastes"... this is the elitist and critical view of our age, and it is destructive to children, to educators, to parents, to everyone. It shows itself in our politics, our medicine, our science, and, most notably, in our ART (or lack thereof).
Regardless of whether you agree, it is a stimulating and provocative essay. YouTube has many videos of Gould. This one of the young Gould practicing a Bach partita is a good way to start. Williams follows her essay with the transcript of a long interview. Here's how it begins:
Q. What pianists do you like to listen to?
A. I like pianists who are musicians first. One of my favorites is Charles Mingus. His album Mingus Plays Piano on Impulse! is one of my favorite piano albums, period. And when I lived in Oakland, CA, I'd go down and hear Buddy Montgomery play piano. He was a vibist, but I loved his piano playing too. He played music. He didn't just play piano.
It is difficult to say with certainty that Tatum's Ultimatum is Williams's most recent CD; she issues CDs the way the MacArthur Foundation issues "genius" grants (one of which she deserves).
But it is new, and it is stunning. Despite its title, the solo album is not so much a tribute to Art Tatum or an evocation of his style as an exposition of the "fullness and passion and gentleness" that she admires in Gould, executed in some passages at supersonic speed with timing and accuracy that do recall Tatum.
One of her admirers who is also a world-class jazz pianist told me recently, "I think Jessica is the cleanest fast pianist I've ever heard."
She may also be one of the wryest. Humor is an essential component of her work. If you don't believe it, listen to her romp through - of all things - Sidney Bechet's "Petite Fleur." Even the dour Bechet would have smiled at her flourishes, her swing, the role reversal of her hands, her rhythmic displacments and reharmonizations. And Artie Shaw, who grew to hate "Begin The Beguine," could not have resisted William's version, if only for the joy of its suspended ending.
Except for her "Ballade for A.T." all of the pieces in the CD are standards, including a "trio" version of "Ain't She Sweet" with Williams providing the synthesizer bass and drums, which seem anything but synthesized.
- Doug Ramsey, noted jazz critic for JazzTimes, author. Doug's most recent book is Poodie James, a novel published in 2007. Previously, he published Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond. He is also the author of Jazz Matters: Reflections on the Music and Some of its Makers. He contributed to The Oxford Companion to Jazzand co-edited Journalism Ethics: Why Change? He is at work on another novel in which, as in Poodie James, music is incidental. He 's a regular mainstay of the blogging community, with his site on Arts Journal, Rifftides
What's this? The ultimate hubris? The "pride goes before the fall" syndrome? Who dares challenge the Great Tatum, the pianist who was referred to by his contemporaries as "God"?
No one, that's who.
Least of all me, who said in the liner notes of a recent release,"I'm not so much a pianist as I am a musician. That's what's more important to me."
My intent here was, and remains, to have fun, LOTS of fun, paying homage and tribute to probably the most facile, relaxed, inventive, and utterly technically dominating of all the jazz pianists, Art Tatum.
When all is said and done, there was only one Tatum, just like there's only one Gould, only one Herbie, only one McCoy. As for me, I've been around long enough now to leave the judging of my own playing to others.
It's enough for me to just say that "I like it, I like it!"
I hope you like it, too!
- Jessica Williams
Tatum's Ultimatum - a Tribute to the great pianist Art Tatum - Jessica Williams, piano. Program list:
- Gone with the Wind
- Can't get Started
- Petite Fleur
- I Never Knew
- Embraceable You
- Begin the Beguine
- Ballad for Art Tatum
- Squeeze me
- Easy Livin'
- Drivin' me Crazy
- Ain't She Sweet
Total time, 51 minutes. Jessica Williams plays a 7 foot Knabe Concert Grand Piano. Album Made for Red and Blue Records, 2006-2007
Sat, 13 Oct 2007: Reg wrote: Your tribute to Art Tatum is a gem. Words like fantastic, exquisite and exhilarating come to mind. In other words it rocks. You brought another dimension to this collection of songs. You captured the essence of Tatum with your speed, rhythm and timing. Your melodic phrasing and tasteful quotes all add up to an excellent tribute. It makes me want to ask the question "what will she do next?" - Reg ___
Fri, 17 Aug 2007 Robert M ___ wrote: Jessica, I was "reared" on listening to Tatum since my high school years, so I know what is possible to a select few. And you done done it! Robert ___