Jessica Williams, pianist: NEWS
Lumbar Fusion Surgery, L5/L4/S1 - please donate
Please donate to my spine surgery recovery fund using Paypal or my PO Box —see my MRI pictures, xrays, video . . . 6 pedicle screws, 4 titanium cages with autograft bone, titanium plates, and 2 radiolucent bendable carbon rods later, I'm taller, thinner, and getting well very slowly. These donations are for the year ahead that I'll be unable to play—morselized autograft bone infusions can take 12-18 months or more to harden. If you have a moment and some extra money that would better go to me than a political party, here's the page with the MRI photos and the PO Box and the PayPal button . . . PLEASE DONATE. My trial is not yet behind me . . . THANK YOU for your help! —JW
Letter to a friend
That back operation—not just a minor affair but actually 9 different procedures on a very deformed back — really changed my life. In many unexpected ways. Here's part of a recent email I wrote to a friend:
"I think this was part genetics and part just bad body mechanics at the piano. As I got older I developed a very physical style. Really stooped. Any part of the back that is strained affects all other parts. So most pianists I knew had some back pain—some had a lot. Remember, too, that we were all of us flying all around the world hundreds of times in planes where the seats got closer and closer together every year. It was like a game. Soon we’d just be herrings in a tin. This was perhaps worse on our backs than our postures at the piano. Sometimes we’d be up for 48 hours and then have to play with no sleep. The promoters were saving on hotel expenses and air-fares. The promoters were crooks! Little did we know.
"Anyway. I had had back trouble all through my teens and 20’s, and then when I was 32 or 33, I had my first laminectomy because a disc blew—a ruptured nucleus pulposa, L5-S1. Before that I was down for a year unable to walk. I was in Sacramento. I had no health care. No musicians did. The people there obviously loved my music and so they got together and saved me. Then-Mayor Anne Rudin gave me help, and a plaque and keys to the city and lots of news coverage, and Dr John Yen, a neurosurgeon, did the operation for free and someone payed for the 8-day hospital stay. The people of that fair city paid my rent and fed me. They held rent-parties just like they used to in Philly and NYC. My own private Great Depression! Saved by the Sacramento New Deal!
"But I always hurt badly after that. And 30 years later it got worse. Bones of the spine slipping inward pushing organs around. Oh gods below, the pain. So when Medicare kicked in it was time to go to the surgeon. And it was bad. No fun at all. But now I’m walking again. I don’t have much endurance and my feet are both numb and I my hands and fingers are still shaking—they call it Intention Tremor, and a brain MRI showed myelin-sheath damage, so maybe it’s Parkinson’s or the dreaded Huntington’s chorea and I’ll start dancing the Charleston one day soon . . . but I think it’s all the Ketamine and Curare and just plain exhaustion. Anybody can have little white spots on their brain for any number of reasons.
"We all seem to age at different speeds. I must be a pedal-to-the-metal ager. I do remember that both Mom and Dad had really bad posture, and Daddy would always complain about his back. He died at 70, same as my mother, so it’s hard to say. By the way, they were separated for 14 years and they died a week apart, him first. So my mother called me up and she said “I outlived the s.o.b.” —and then a week later she falls over of the same exact thing that killed dear old Dad: A brain aneurysm. Little did they know!
"And so I am on an enforced vacation. Except for all that time that I couldn’t walk. I’ve never really had time to just goof around. I now see it as a very important and fulfilling activity, just goofing around. I don’t have ANY idea what’s coming. I know something creative is coming but right now it’s almost as if the government has installed tiny radios in my brain and are now jamming my creative circuits. And it surely is possible that our government is controlling our actions and our thoughts with little radios or some such technology. Remember that George Clooney movie, The Men who Stared at Goats? MKUltra! I'm not a tin-foil-hat kind of woman, by the way—I don’t think I’m worth their trouble. But who knows? Maybe that’s what's really going on. Little do we know!"
-Letter to a friend, JW, Dec 1, 2013- (Literalists: I am only kidding about that last part!)
I thank everyone!
My new piano . . . I was without one for too long! Click photos to enlarge.
Maurice at Classic Pianos in Bellevue WA (he has a Portland store also) has provided me with a wonderful instrument: a 2003 Yamaha C7 (7 foot concert grand) with stage wheels, a true artist's bench (my first!) and the tonal qualities I've always sought in a piano. It sounds to me like a cross between a Bosendorfer and an older Steinway. The bass can roar like a lioness or purr like a kitten—it is magnificent. The mid-range has the bell-like qualities I seek in softer passages and the memory-delights of a walk in early morning through the mists of an awakening warm summer's day. It provides speed, attack, superb touch control from ppp to fff, and the richness of any Bosendorfer I've ever heard or played, and I've played a few. The high end sparkles but does not cut like glass. It reminds me of warm rain, shimmering desert sands, and a quiet starry night with a billion stars alight.
Now I can start to make music again. I can practice. I can write more freely. I can PLAY! The first day it was here (Mar 13, 2013) I over-did it and spent most of the next day in bed. I still have some compressed nerve-root pain in my feet—which are connected to my legs which connect to my spine which connects to my brain, where the pathways are eventually stored and can be re-trained with physical therapy and other "rewiring" disciplines. Of course, the pedaling of both left and right feet using all three pedals is an intrinsically important part of my playing. I will need much practice. This is probably the finest exercise I could engage in.
And today is my BIRTHDAY, March 17 (1948). I received birthday greetings, not just from friends, but from magazines like JazzTimes and AllAboutJazz! I am having a great birthday. The last concert I played before I had this operation was a year ago. Exactly on my 64th birthday, at a house concert in Seattle WA. I was on pain meds galore, pretty stoned (in a bad way), in gruesome pain, and barely made it to the finish line. But I have very fond memories of my audience singing along with me as I played ""Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm 64" from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band by, of course, the Beatles.
There is a Golden Path
I am nowhere near healed yet. It's a light-year away, that first concert. And I don't expect the whirlwind. I'm never going to approach that kind of physicality. I appreciate it, but it's no longer my style. I can't really complain, though. My spirit is buoyed by your continued generosity, and I feel younger than I have in years. Paradoxically, I hurt, but I feel good.
The Golden Path you are always hearing me speak about is enfolded into every grain of my being, both physical and spiritual. The Golden Path is what I call "my life" and the "rules" that govern it. The Path has been there always, since I can remember anything. As a small child it lay before me and it stretched to infinity. It still does. I make glacial progress but as long as I am on it I am safe. What makes it Golden is the gravity it exerts on my passage through this place. If I step off of it (and I have) I become very confused, ill, lost, and broken. There is no way for me to live without the movement forward upon my Golden Path. When I am fully conscious and moving swiftly along its own self-evident concourse, I become intoxicated with the vision that takes over my mind and body. I suppose it is nothing new to creators, but I am always awe-struck at its ability to inspire such momentum in my inner self.
Love, work, and knowledge—these are some of the ingredients of the Path. They constituted the "meaning of life" for Dr Wilhelm Reich, the great scientist and psychoanalyst. They constitute the Paths of most religions to some degree, and they make real the framework for a life well-lived. My Golden Path is creativity and love, music and art, literature and thought, discovery and curiosity, newness and surprise, freedom and social justice, strength of will and—not lastly—the burning desire to share. Sharing is leaving our country as fast as our jobs are going overseas, and I want to keep the idea of sharing very much alive here. It is our best side as a people. The Golden Path is my best and noblest intent as a human being.
As this past year has gone, some may think that I have sunk into the mire of complacency and illness, awaiting death. Be assured that death, though always an integrated facet of any self-aware life, is not coming to me soon. In fact, life stands before me more vividly and with greater clarity than ever before in any memory. I have much to do, and little time for distraction or deflection from my purpose.
An acquaintance recently lamented my state via telephone. "How lonely you must be! How awful life must be."
He was never a very observant or far-thinking fellow. We have not spoken in many months, so he knows NOTHING of my day-to-day joys and achievements and longings and pleasures. As for friends, I have few close ones but these are the kind of men and women that would die standing at my side for values that others may not understand.
Only be in the company of those with whom you would not mind dying.
Friends share, friends listen, friends live by word-bond, friends are there at ALL times during ALL conditions and in ALL times of trouble. They're also there when it's time to have fun. And, as "friends" go, some of the ones that have saved my life are you out there, generous and sharing people who understand the movements of our world systems and our political madness of selfishness and hoarding, and see sharing as I see it: the way back to fidelity, parity, and true prosperity. And I may never meet most of you! But you have to know I'm grateful beyond my words. You help me gain my footing on my precious Path again, and my gratitude will never be small or easily forgotten. - JW on her 65th Birthday, March 17, 2013
THE GOLDEN PATH
A small pebble, thrown in a peaceful pond. Going outward, a good thing is done... That is the Golden Path, explained.
AND FROM FRIENDS . . . thank you, Bob and Rosemary
Jessica playing the piano at Kuumbwa Jazz Center on August 17, 1998.
The great Armenian artist, Kevork Mourad, was sketching me as he sat in the audience.
Please visit his web site. Wonderful art and a great honor for me.
THE ART OF BRUNI
This is an example of the beautiful art of Bruni Sablan. Check out the below photo of her painting (oil on artboard, 20"x30".
This is her portrait of me. What an honor, what an artist. Dedicated, gifted, and following her own Golden Path.
Todd Barkan. The man who "paid off my student loan" in my world of jazz. If I learned anything from Tony Williams and Dexter Gordon and Art Blakey and Freddie Hubbard and Randy Weston and a host of other magnificent Grand Masters, it was because of the man who made jazz so very real to me. Thank you, Todd. Please stay for a long time.
DR BILLY TAYLOR
Oh, Dr Billy. You entered the long blue tube to the afterlife. I miss you. What a friend. I made an album dedicated to you. I'm glad you liked it. We cried together, didn't we? And laughed. What a well-lived life!
You have gone and died on me, and I will miss you and your music dearly. You changed my life in two big ways. First, your "Take Five" was the first jazz album I ever owned (at 12) followed by Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue". Honest: I could swing in 5/4 time before I could play in 4/4.
And second, your endorsement of my talents — "One of the greatest pianists I have ever heard!" — probably did more to get me heard than all of my radio-play and CD sales combined. That last benefit had its downsides, Dave, one being that it was your words and not my work that did the trick. But that wasn't your fault. That was something that I felt I had to live up to. I tried, but now I realize that I'm better off just playing what I hear and doing what I do. Just like you did. We're ALL students.
Thank you, Dave, for all of the unforeseen accolades that I received because of your liner notes for that album I made so many years ago. And if you listen close, you can hear yourself in me, living on through me, having given me the great gift of your friendship and your masterly music. It was a real mutual admiration society. And you, Dave, were "The Real Ambassador". - JW, Dec 11, 2012
From the Doug Ramsey Vault...
The Great Gould, again
I realize I'm smitten by Glenn Gould and have been for many years now. It's not that I want to repeat myself, but I just watched this again on YouTube and it bears reposting. Here, Glenn Gould plays Goldberg Variations var.26-30 and the gorgeous Aria Da Capo, by J.S. Bach
SONGS OF EARTH
My newest International Release is called Songs of Earth. The cover work is by John Bishop, the CEO/drummer/art department/idea-man behind Origin Records. The photo is by Jimmy Katz of NYC fame, THE go-to man for photographs of musical artists. And I wrote the liner notes. THIS IS THE ONE I LOVE THE MOST. Until the next one. Hear it and buy it here. Remember, new buyers get one free CD with any first purchase, and my signature too, if they want it. First review (Audiophile) gives it five stars. get it (and more) here.
Stay happy, or at least seek it! -JW, Dec 10, 2012
My playing is a dance singing, a magical dance creating an aural circle in the air. People join hands in trust and peace. The circle becomes complete when the Elders, the women, the children, the men, all have a voice in the song and a place in the dance. The earth vibrates under our dancing feet. The sky shimmers with our sacred song. If we were to love. What would it be like if we were to love...
MUGGED BY REALITY!
I don't think too much of Ayn Rand. Her work as a novelist is tedious at best, unpalatable at worst. When I need help I ask for it. When I can give help I do so. I agree that "Love, Work, and Knowledge are the Wellsprings of our Life — they should also govern it." Dr Wilhelm Reich said that, and he was quite right in many ways. But while I and my spouse were taking care of Mother for a year, with no help from "The Welfare State", while Alzheimer's claimed her mind, while I watched her slip into senile dementia and changed her diapers every day, while I watched as she became virtually catatonic at one moment and raving with fear and mania the next, it made me realize what a heartless bunch some Americans have become. I've visited and performed in many many countries and never have I seen the level of disregard for other's welfare that I've seen here.
Many individuals were (and still are) screeching on both the airwaves and the Internet: "Let her die. Survival of the fittest. The poor are poor because they WANT to be poor. They have Cadillacs and TV's and hot water! That's more than they deserve! FDR was a Commie. Let Mother go out and GET A JOB!!!" Altruism disappeared, to be replaced by a movement called "The Prosperity Christians" (sic) and they told us that Jesus was a rich carpenter and preached that every man and woman should take care of themselves. No help from or for anyone. Don't ask. Just like in the jungle. Survival of the smartest and the swiftest. Predatory Capitalsism is born and now supported by organized religion.
My brain almost exploded during this last so-called election cycle.
We're all brothers and sisters, children on this beautiful blue orb that is a perfect place for paradise. We are not born enemies. We need not be constantly at war. Yet we hurt each other indiscriminately and call it "modern life" and "our new business model". There is nothing new about Tyranny and the ignorance it spawns. We'd kill our sister for an iPad. Many of us have never been out of our State, and some of us have never left our township. Yet we voice hatred and fear towards the evils of socialism. Many of us want no government at all, no Big Brother. 'Obamacare' will make us all COMMIES! The Tea Party brims with fear and hatred of intellectuals, gays, people of color, artists, musicians, poets, diplomats and scientists. So it was in Germany in the 1930's.
Ayan Rand's central character in her novel "The Fountainhead", Howard Roark, blew up a building not owned by him but of his design, raped a woman, and escaped justice by delivering a 45-page anti-collectivist, pro-individualistic, ego-driven rant in a courtroom of his "peers" (although he admitted himself to having "no peers among men") and emerged unscathed, "taking" his woman (via open scaffolding sailing skyward at immense speed) up the side of the tallest skyscraper in Gotham in the style of the late "King-Kong". This fantastical charade was as plausible to most sane readers as is the newest Hollywood "Batman" movie.
Yet Ayn Rand herself was a ward of the State, a recipient of FDR's health and social justice programs. She was an amphetamine addict, an illegal alien, an alcoholic, and she died still smoking cigarettes, in the hospital bed, alone, with few friends. When she was buried, a huge bouquet of roses was sent to her — in the shape of a dollar sign. She had rejected the one man that had loved her, Nathaniel Branden (he had changed his name to be closer to hers) — and now millions of Americans want to recreate her nightmare dime-novel philosophy in real time, right here, right now.
She called altruism a “basic evil” and referred to those who perpetuate the system of taxation and redistribution as “looters” and “moochers.” She wrote in her book “The Virtue of Selfishness” that accepting any government controls is “delivering oneself into gradual enslavement.”
Rand also believed that the scientific consensus on the dangers of tobacco was a hoax. By 1974, the two-pack-a-day smoker, then 69, required surgery for lung cancer. And it was at that moment of vulnerability that she succumbed to the lure of collectivism.
Evva Joan Pryor, who had been a social worker in New York in the 1970s, was interviewed in 1998 by Scott McConnell, who was then the director of communications for the Ayn Rand Institute. In his book, 100 Voices: An Oral History of Ayn Rand , McConnell basically portrays Rand as first standing on principle, but then being mugged by reality. Stephens points to this exchange between McConnell and Pryor.
“She was coming to a point in her life where she was going to receive the very thing she didn’t like, which was Medicare and Social Security,” Pryor told McConnell. “I remember telling her that this was going to be difficult. For me to do my job she had to recognize that there were exceptions to her theory. So that started our political discussions. From there on – with gusto – we argued all the time.
“The initial argument was on greed,” Pryor continued. “She had to see that there was such a thing as greed in this world. Doctors could cost an awful lot more money than books earn, and she could be totally wiped out by medical bills if she didn’t watch it. Since she had worked her entire life, and had paid into Social Security, she had a right to it. But she didn’t feel that an individual should take help.”
I have health care and I pay for it. I am glad it's there. My neurosurgeon was not cheap. And I'd like to think that humans could stop fighting and start taking care of each other, too. I'd like to think that we could soon walk on Mars and not have to be content in putting a mere robot there. After all, aren't we explorers at heart? And isn't it in humankind's nature to go up the entropy slope and not down? Are we so fixated on avoiding tax-cuts for the job-creators (!?!) that our ability to just be kind to each other is thwarted forever?
Nay! Tough love for us. Real caring might affect the trickle-down economics — the voodoo economics that make our richest people richer while we lead the civilized world in child and elderly poverty rates. Way to go, America. Our leaders can only be blamed for following our most vocal extremist social movements. There is money to be made. Destroyed human lives are collateral damage.
Sometimes I mourn for us. -JW, Nov 21, 2012
The one that got away
Below, my last piano (bought in Nov, 2011). An early Baldwin, unnumbered, estimated to have been built in 1897. It's just shy of 6.5 feet long. Unfortunately, I had to sell it. See here for reasons. A new one comes. They come to me like little dogs. And big ones too. See Angel. And Ghanima
My new CD for Origin Arts
My newest trio CD for Origin Arts is called Freedom Trane. Available now, here. Here's the cover by Origin Arts' design genius, John Bishop... also the president of the company. He does it all, and does it well. Check out all the albums I have available here... listen, read, and buy if you are so disposed. Thank you! (Update: a chart-buster) - Newly reviewed (Feb 10, 2012) by Jeff Winbush at All About Jazz NYand a new great review from JazzTimes.
Several people have pointed out that right after posting some quotes by Apple's guru, the late Steve Jobs, I followed up with my positive feelings about the "99 Percent" or Occupy Wall Street Movement. This was too much of a contradiction in philosophies for some to bear. "Steve Jobs epitomized miserly greed and corporate elitism, the very things you seem to rail against," opined one email I received. What can I say? I like Jobs' quotes. And I stand with the 99. I use a Mac, and I know that Apple is an out-sourcing corporate monolith, just as I know that our democracy is in a great deal of trouble: Trouble?!? Our leaders are certifiably insane! Somehow I muddle through the day knowing full well that every time I pay my electric bill, I feed the beast that exemplifies miserly greed and corporate elitism, and that some fat cat gets fatter. . . I just really like the light and the heat. Oh well, at least I own neither an iPhone nor an iPad. How does one live without these necessities? Easily.
Thoughts about death from Steve Jobs
Like anyone else, I'm sorry to hear that a vastly creative force has left us. And just because I use a Mac doesn't necessarily mean that I'm a "fan-girl" or a Steve Jobs Cheerleader... there are certainly enough stories out there to draw him as a saint, a villain, or anything in-between. I'm not interested in stories, rumors, and opinions. I know I love working on my Mac, and that it does exactly what I ask of it. I'm running the OSX "Lion" right now, and it is very cool. So I thank Steve Jobs for being so creative and hip and for always thinking "outside the box". Yet I'm more moved to set down a few of his own thoughts here, because they are pretty much very close to how I live my own life, and they resonate with me. These words of his were delivered to a graduating class at Stanford University in 2005, before he knew he was dying. He thought that he had years more to go, because the doctors had told him that his pancreatic cancer was of a rare form and that it could be treated.
"Every morning I ask myself: If today were the last day of my life, would I WANT to do what I am about to do today? And if the answer is NO for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something." - Steve Jobs
"Death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that's as it should be. Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It's Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but not too long from now, you will gradually become the old, and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it's quite true." - Steve Jobs
"Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything - all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know of to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart." - Steve Jobs
"Your time is very limited, so don't spend it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by DOGMA - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And, most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow know what you truly want to become." - Steve Jobs
[And there was the time, right after the great drummer and human being Tony Williams died, when I told all of the people in my audience, "It seems like only weeks ago I was playing in San Francisco with Tony. And now he's dead. At fifty-one. So I realize that each and every one of us is going to die. And this makes me able to love and appreciate you and your lives even more." That was a Jessica Williams quote. The next day in a prominent Seattle paper there was a review of that concert . . . and the reviewer wrote, "and then she told everyone they were going to die . . . what a downer."]
Maybe said reviewer isn't going to die. I know I am. And it's not just my Buddhist nature that resonates with Steve Jobs' words. It gives me a real feeling of personal freedom to know that, as long as I do what I believe in with all of my heart, I'm on the right track, the only track. The track that leads through my beautiful Life to my inevitable Death. Thanks for the words, Steve Jobs.
Thought for the new millennium
Written in 1870 by Julia Ward Howe, US feminist and reformer, as a call to women everywhere to stand up for PEACE as the nation tried to recover from the Civil War: 'Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have taught them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.'
No kakking in my immediate future
I have hypothyroidism as do millions of people, and ninety-percent of us are women. That means that research into the causes and cure of this disease is woefully under-funded. So I've done my own research and am doing well managing the disease (knock-knock). Fortunately I am NOT an endocrinologist, as it seems my brain still functions adequately. Read what I (and the New England Journal of Medicine) think about porcine thyroid, T3, and Avicel fillers.
I should also take this opportunity to mention that I 'm quite alive, and vitally so. Rumors of my death have reached me on numerous occasions. Allow me to assure the originators of such rumors that myself and my partner and my friends and my health care professionals all agree that while my death (and the death of every human on Earth) is an unavoidable certainty, MY particular date has not been set, MY eulogy has not been written and MY plot has not been prepared. Your eagerness is appreciated and does not go unnoticed. But, as they say, a watched pot never boils. Please keep watchin', and I'll be assured of many many more years to come.
What an honor
My new album Touch is in Dan McClenaghan's Top Ten for 2010 on AllAboutJazz - AND Scott Yanow's Top Ten for 2010 in JazzTimes. Read the first review for TOUCH by Dan McClenaghan of AllAboutJazz . . . Perhaps the finest review I've ever received. And here's a lengthy interview with me by Dan McLenaghan. Also, a great review from Audiophile Audition, and, best of all, the review by the veteran himself, master jazz critic Doug Ramsey. Also, here's my latest (audio) ASCAP Interview
My latest release for OriginArts is here, well before its "street date. The doorbell rings. I don't want to talk to anyone. And later I go to the door and open it a bit. And there's that stack of boxes that I didn't think would be here for a few months yet. Aren't CD releases always late? Obviously, not with John Bishop's label. This one is special. 'Specialer' than all the rest, to me. It's like a curve in the road. It's where I listen and nod, and say to myself, "I made this, and it's good." I don't often get a big kick out of a new release, but this one is different. This one takes me to places I've always wanted to go. Art is hard to make sometimes. You have to go through the fire to get to where you want to be, sometimes. Sometimes you never get there. I hope you love this one as I do
So much beauty
I played at The Triple Door a few nights back. There was so much love in the audience that it actually drew the music out of me. Of all the beauty in the world, the most beautiful thing is people united by a common activity, a common interest. I have the best audiences I know of: never loud, raucous, or challenging. They're wonderful folks, and even the ones I hardly know seem like friends. Thank you to Diane, Carol, Jessica D., Nicki, Lawrence, Steve, Betsy, Brian . . . thank you for sharing time with me and listening so intently while I continue this lifelong search. Below is a rendition of my piece Love and Hate, played at The Triple Door. More video here
You THINK too much...
" . . . in this second lesson in the Chordscale Theory series where the tune Mack the Knife is analyzed and a transcription (!) of Jessica Williams improvising over the changes from her 1997 recording Higher Standards is examined for her use of chordscales in the solo." Yes, you know you're getting musky when the on-line vultures start to dissect your music and build lesson-oriented web sites around it. Strangely, I have absolutely NO clue what "Chordscale Theory" is, nor do I wish to know. I am obviously (according to them) already a master at it.
If life is hitting you too hard
. . . and if a 100mg-per-day diazepam addiction is starting to sound like a reasonable option, consider these cds, all recent, and all completely without screams of anguish and brutal rage or displays of furious pyrotechnics. They're downright peaceful, and they work for me. I listen to them a lot, and that's a good sign, since I'm pretty critical of my playing. I think what I like is that I don't try to show off. I just play. Pretty. There's Rain, and Ballads, and Prophets, and Offering, and Deep Monk, and Unity, and Resolution, and the critically-lauded Songs for a New Century, and its companion album, Billy's Theme. And there's always Jessica Plays for Lovers. Happy listening, since there are a lot of enticing mp3's to get you hooked. And not on diazepam. If burning the house down is more to your liking, it's all here
Another Jessica Williams Widget. Should I laugh or cry?
Get a mobile Jessica Williams cell-phone widget from PLUSMO There are Jessica Williams Ringtones, too (on iTunes and thousands of other outlets on the web). Someone is making money off these deals, and I assure you it is not me. Not one penny. That's why I always implore my audiences to buy my music from me. It's TRUE: I don't receive one penny from any on-line or brick and mortar sales of my work. It's true for MOST musicians. I even write about it here
And number one on the list, too...
Dan McClenaghan's Top Ten CDs for 2009. View the article here. It's The Art of the Piano - now on sale here - please buy it from me if you care about the artist getting paid. If not, iTunes and all of the on-line stores will have it, too. I'm very, very happy with this one. So far, the reviews are in agreement . . . JazzTimes just weighed in favorably. My fourth album for Origin, TOUCH, will be on sale here and around the globe in late July. I also just released The Golden Light, an album I made in 1977! When I heard it after all these years, I flipped! This music served as the foundation for a lot of my work that came afterwards. It possesses elements that I'm already revisiting in my playing, such as increased freedom, risk-taking, pure creative joy, and a go-for-it attitude tempered by a calm center. Music is for communicating, cooperating, and spreading the light.
My new piano
2007 (since sold): A Yamaha 7 foot 6 inch Conservatory Concert Grand. I can not say anything at the moment except wow, and "I got a good one there, folks!" More to follow. Click on thumbnail for large image. See here for commentary. We own nothing. That is a true and existential statement. None of us OWN anything. Except, if we're lucky and conscious, our selves.
Don't try this at home, kids:
Pianists: alert. The Gould does it to me again, this time in 5 installments: Glenn Gould plays a few Goldberg Variations
Portland giglet still a big gig
Click on the thumbnail pix at left for a larger picture of my small but spiritually luminous audience. People I needed to see that I haven't seen in a long while. Sandy Burlingame, Kirby and Amy Allen, Andrea, Hillary, Esther, George, and many more. And of course, I bought my piano from Classic Pianos - where we held the concert - and so it was great to see Peggie and Rick Zackery, to tell them how incredibly pleased I am with my new Yamaha 7'6" Conservatory Concert Grand with Blue Renner Hammers. My old piano may be becoming more popular than I. "Famous piano sighted" in the Seattle PI, and it looks familiar to me.
Large hands do not always great music make
Yoda said that. In plain English, meet Erroll Garner. Years ago when I was blue, Erroll would save whole days for me, lifting my mood in the first four bars. Lots of serious "jazz" musicians ignored or dismissed him, but those who knew this Music were aware of the miracle that was this man who sat on phone-books to get level with the piano. And here I am sawing legs off of chairs. I said it before... "music comes from your heart, not your hands." It blows me away that the crowd can sit there and not just get up and dance with joy. I can't wait to get some of that energy back, and watching this video does wonders for me. You too, I'll bet!
Happy Birthday to me
I was wondering why I was so tired all the time. Now I know. I'll be fine, and it sure is nice to know that I have a lot of mileage still left in me, and more real friends than I could ever ask for. It's good to know what was happening to me, and to know that it was real, and that it has a cure. I had having the best birthday of my life - my 60th on Mar 17. So if you're bone-tired all the time and you're gaining weight and your hair is thinning and you're getting slow and hoarse and dizzy and bloated and depressed and forgetful, please read this!
Is it me or is it the thyroxine?
It's me! Songs for a New Century is out now, and available here. Also, there's Deep Monk, Blood Music, and Prophets, all here. And more, including the somewhat medical-sounding Vital Signs.... didn't some "airport author" write a book with a similar title? It's my ode to my miraculously renewed health, and my unexpected but perhaps inevitable return to faster-than-light right hand lines. If you thought Tatum's Ultimatum was speedy, look out! And I have my first Grammy Nominee, Nothin But the Truth, on sale for a limited time only
My 60th will go down in Herstory
Well, at least Mystory. Getting well after a years-long, misdiagnosed illness, being loved by so many people, being given so many gifts that fill my heart with joy (thankfully, no Oprah gifts... say, a Buick which you have to pay taxes on.) The talented video-audio genius Robbie Cribbs, owner of Sound Trap Studios, managed to get some fun footage. There are Quicktime videos here of my Bday Bash, as well as a lot of other vids. And yes, I had TWO bashes, the first engineered by my friend Richard, and the second plotted and perfectly executed by the immensely gifted pianist Maureen Girard. The fine jazz pianist Overton Berry was there too. What a beautiful life. 60th Bday vids
The incredible and masterful jazz pianist George Cables recently underwent a double-transplant operation. So far, so good. George is a prince of a man, a genius, and a good friend. See georgecables.com. I visited his web site and was SO happy to see that he's touring and playing again. He is a trooper, a brave man, a good man, and one GREAT musician who has always played this music with dignity, and all of his heart and soul. A natural resource, a national treasure!
As I put all of the principles of my playing together and revisit the musicians that have influenced me in the most profound ways, I'm finding that the "strange, eccentric, and often radical techniques" of Glenn Gould are working their magic. An example: sitting 16 inches off the ground works for me. It works SO well. It is the single best thing I have ever done to improve my interface with my instrument. Sitting 16 inches off the ground in a chair with a back to it. Not just any chair. Like Gould, I have my own now, and when it can travel with me, it will. When it can't, you'll find me backstage, before the concert, measuring chair heights. This epiphany and more here
Two very important jobs in this life are making art and making people laugh. For laughs I recommend two very funny movies, both directed by (and starring) Mel 'it's good to be the King' Brooks - The History of the World Part One and Silent Movie in which Mel Brooks plays a character called Mel Funn. And here's a narrator's line from History; "And of course, with the birth of the artist came the inevitable afterbirth; the critic." (With apologies to Doug Ramsey...) And in Silent Movie we're treated to a stellar performance by Anne Bancroft, who could cross her eyes like nobody's business! (Anne was married to Mel for 46 years.)
I played at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina on Oct 25, 07, and I shared that honor with Kenny Barron, Hank Jones, Randy Weston, Barry Harris, Johnny Griffin, Andy Bey... you have to know how much I love all of these great artists. And I played a good concert, at least by my standards. The dark side is this: the concert series was billed as a Monk tribute. I, being the only female artist on the six-week-long bill, was asked to pay equal tribute to Mary Lou Williams. I and I alone. I love Mary Lou, and I was prepared, as I'd written many tribute pieces to her. But here's where it gets weird: Monk had played in Durham for less than a week, just one time in his life. Mary Lou had taught at Duke for three years. Think about it. But not for too long, or blood will gush out of your ears.
The Brecon Music Festival
I just played solo piano at the Brecon Jazz Festival in Wales on Aug 12 07 ... and I did two TV shows, one for the BBC1 and one for BBC4. I was also at The Stables in Milton-Keynes, UK on Aug 14, and I really felt that both concerts were very special and very rewarding, for the audience and for myself. Here's a few pictures of me at Brecon by photographer Brian O'ConnerAND, BEST OF ALL, some video
And my dedication CD to him, called Fantasias and Adagios. There is nothing to compare to his musicianship, his technical mastery, his deep understanding of the Music he's playing, the unbelievable control of elements of style, and the utterly mesmerizing readings of just about everything he played. And I don't believe I ever heard Gould make a mistake. If he did, I certainly didn't catch it. Rarely am I so moved by a pianist, and never have I been so moved as by this one. He has changed my own approach to the piano. I write more about that here and here
The old news is no news (and no news is good news) archives:
Audio and Video
I'm getting used to working with videos now, and enjoying even editing them. I have no great love of writing code, but it sure is fun to see things work after laboring over them intensely for awhile, and I DO have a love of learning new things. It was no easy feat for me to figure out how to post that first Flash video, and the Quicktime versions were not much easier, even though I'm a Mac user. I hope the videos work for you. If you see spinach between your friend's teeth, let them know! So give the videos a try. And, incidentally, the little script I'm using here to make these earlier posts into more compact versions of their previous volume is called Accordion. As you click on a title, it should open up to that subject. If it doesn't... well, then, it's another case of spinach and my need to floss more often, or, in this case, RTFM (geekspeak for "read the %$#@ manual...")
Elvin Jones in a Western?
Elvin Jones in a Western! And playing a drum solo after doing some fancy shooting? And, just for good measure, Elvin even shoots the guy TWICE. See this clip from Zachariah
I love producing images. Painting, Digital Art, Photos, Drawings. Here are a few new ones
Life without freedom is not life
Blessings to you and your families and your friends, and all the kittens and little dogs, too ... be strong and committed, believe in your ability to change the world, fight the oppression and evil, and remember: we are needed now! Be a leader, fight the good fight, and don't give up on the things you love and the dreams you have. Life is too short to be afraid. Most of the civilized world understands that we ARE NOT our government. I hope.
One day you wake up and find that you're not exhausted anymore. You feel like making wild things again. You feel the seasons turn and you realize that you still have what you thought you'd lost forever. Like Joni Mitchell sang: "And we have to make our way back to the Garden..." And for me it means this
John William Coltrane
Something to give you chills and inspire you and remind you of the meaning of life: The John Coltrane Quartet playing Afro Blue - a video at youtube of a TV special from 50 years ago sponsored by Ralph Gleason, Jazz Casual - If ever we needed inspiration, it's now. The clarity of focus and sheer concentrated devotion in Coltrane's solo here just shakes me to my core. There's density, drama, gravity, tension, and resolution. His gift to us was so enormous that it can't ever be measured. Thank you, John Coltrane
At the Kennedy Center
Here's a review from the Washington Post and one from All About Jazz about my Kennedy Center performance for the 11th Annual Women in Jazz Festival ... plus some beautiful photos by Margot Schulman of the great women performers on hand that night. I performed my Tribute to Dr Billy Taylor. He founded this festival 11 years ago - and I even managed to get Billy to come up and play with me. The resultant CD, Billy's Theme, is getting rave reviews. You can buy the CD here
Ayako Shirasaki has a new cd out: Home Alone. Solo piano. She's an amazing pianist and composer. Great stuff. You can get her CDs at ayakoshirasaki.com
Following the lines: they're there to tell us the truth...which way to go, what to do, and when. Can you see them?
Angel at the piano
Unfortunately, Angel lost her gig at the Holiday Inn when she showed up in her 'jammies'...
Women in Jazz, Kennedy Center
I had the great honor of opening The 11th Annual Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival. Some of the greatest talent in the world was there.
Another poll result ... are these things fixed or something?
CNN vs Puppy Days
A blogger's article about a house concert I did in Seattle recently. What a beautiful style of writing Laura Grey has.
JazzTimes Critic's poll
The "it's news to me" department, the "why do I always find this stuff out years later" section; I'm a winner of the JazzTimes Critic's Poll with not one but... two... CDs in the Top Ten Best Jazz CDs of 2004, The Real Deal and Live at Yoshi's Vol One. So finally our record company employees work with exactly the same epochal, glacial, and seamless inefficiency as does our government!
I just read what I wrote about Tony Williams, and I added a few of my memories that have recently come back to me. I'm not sure how conscious I was a quarter century ago, but I'd venture to say 'not very'. Anyway, there's my three nights with Tony; and there's what Mary Lou Williams taught me; and more
New CDs, more poll results
New CDs: An exciting live solo piano set at the JBL Theatre, a fine trio album entitled Steps (with surprises and a guest artist). Plus Now, For John Coltrane, Time to Burn, Jessica Plays for Lovers, plus many more, all available only here. See this page for all available cds. More polls - Nice numbers, but just numbers - Poll Result
This Land is Mine
Recently on the Turner Classic Movie Station, I watched Charles Laughton in This Land is Mine for about the 10th time in 30 years. It's still timely, it's still one of my favorite movies, and Laughton is still one of my favorite actors. See it if you can. It's about fascism, fear, and freedom, and what we're willing to do to protect it.
Watson the Scottish Terrier
Watson, my darling Watson. Now he's gone. About the King of Dogs here. And then there was Ruby. And now there's Angel, and no one could ask for a finer friend. I often think that our canine friends are really our superiors in many ways. Without hype or agenda, they want and ask for nothing except for our love and our food. I'm humbled by dogs. I hope I may get to be a dog in my next life. They sure are incredible beings. All I can do is give them lots of love and lots of food and respect. They're nobility! I saw my ex-husband Gary last week - 25 years divorced now and fast friends - and I told him that he was a dog too. In all the good ways. He did not object or disagree. Such is our shared love of dogs.
I should mention that, if you haven't heard the CD Mingus Plays Piano, you have not fully experienced the great man's legacy. It's become one of my all-time favorite solo piano albums. It's on Impulse and reissued on CD, and is a study in great musicianship. Not pianistics. I have heard enough pianistic pianists to last me ten lifetimes. Give me a true musician any day. His Myself When I am Real is beyond price. Stories and anecdotes aside, he must have been a very beautiful man, very fragile and very deep.
Living in the New World Ordure
Reflections on our new and rapidly changing world: Wake up in the morning and resolve to make every act of the day an act of courage, an act of magic. LIVE and BE the change you wish to see in the world. Visualize the new world you want to live in. Work for it daily. Don't be intimidated by idiocy. Don't be intimidated by vague or unsubstantiated threats to your freedoms. Let yourself speak in reasoned emotional terms to people who don't respond to reason, but don't be snide or sarcastic. Don't blame yourself or others for this or any other reality. Don't ever assume you're smarter or better than anyone else, or that you have the answer to everything. Play your piano or your drums or your horn, listen to your music, talk to your friends, paint a picture and give it to a neighbor, help others who have less stuff than you have, try to be a decent human being. When you're not, roll with it and forgive yourself. Try to be the heroine or hero in your own life story. When you're not, get over it. Try to do the right thing. Remember that in 100 years, everyone that is alive now will be dead - and it will not matter much to anyone if you have lived well or lived not at all. So live well. That's the best way to fight for freedom. All other ways are just various and different ways of saying you're as confused and afraid as the next person. Let the storm rage around you, but keep the stillness of your being in your heart, and believe, passionately, that peace will come. Meanwhile, live well, and keep your eyes on the road ahead.
Directly from our 'It's Weird What You Remember Years Later Department': Quote that I remember from years ago...on complaining about my health to band member and legendary bassist Leroy Vinnegar, he observed: "If I would've known I'd live this long I'd have taken better care of my clothes..."
XHTML and Trane
I managed to validate my web site code as XHTML 1.0, a feat only equaled by my playing Coltrane's GIANT STEPS once, really well, in Philadelphia, sometime back in 1975.
Is it news to you?
My friend Arnie Fox has written a book. I'm in it. Presumably, so are 1,999 other pianists with varying degrees of fame. Compendium of Over 2000 Jazz Pianists by Arnie Fox. You can buy it at Trafford books (run a title or author search there) or send Mr Fox an email. From Trafford's web site: "If you'd rather place an order by talking to one of our cheerful order desk clerks, please call 1-888-232-4444 (USA and Canada only) or 250-383-6864. From Europe, ring our UK order desk clerk at local rate number 0845 230 9601 (UK only) or 44 (0)1865 722 113"
Check out one of Sarah Manning's newest projects, Shatter the Glass. I've mentioned her in other places on this web site, always with deep respect, and this time is no different. Founded in January 2007 by saxophonist/composer Sarah Manning, the mission of Shatter the Glass is to: provide a strong role model of a woman-led group in the male dominated jazz industry; encourage participation in jazz by women and girls; and bring the music to a wider demographic ... a tall order, by any standard, and one she's up to. She's an incredible player
Doug Ramsey, author, critic, friend
I'm featured in Jazztimes Magazine (print edition, May 2007), and also on-line at the JazzTimes web site. I submit to their version of the venerable Downbeat blindfold test. They call it Before and After. You can experience it here. Fortunately, my interviewer was the highly-respected and prolific jazz writer and journalist, Doug Ramsey... he's also the author of the wonderful new book Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond
There's a drummer named Eddie Marshall who is bad, bad, bad. He's so deep, he swims in rhythms and beats. He plays when he sleeps but never sleeps when he plays. He's sooo beautiful, and he becomes more beautiful every time I play with him. He's older, like me, and life has done good things to him. Maybe it's not been as kind as it should be (as for all of us) but he's learned the right lessons. I enjoyed playing with him at Yoshi's last month. I can't wait for more.
Drummer, composer and bandleader Max Roach died peacefully in the hospital at 1am Aug 16 07, surrounded by members of his family. Max was one of the last living greats from the earliest days of bebop. A beautiful tribute here
Kurt Vonnegut is up in heaven now. I don't know about you, but I'm lonelier now that he's gone. I think we're all a little worse off now that he graduated. I'll bet he's still smoking Pall Malls and wearing that big green sweater with all the moth bites in it and happily shaking the hand of every Hoosier he meets. I loved him so much. We all loved him so very much. And there's a hole in our collective hearts now that he's not around to give us the goods. He made the real scivvy so much easier to swallow. God Bless You, Mr Vonnegut
Glenn Gould (again)
Magnificence and genuine guileless purity of spirit and purpose, which even the most blessed among us aspire to but rarely attain. His Goldberg Variations are utterly magnificent. It's said that Bach was put here to write this music, and Gould was put here to play it. GG is a Universe unto himself. And, fortunately for us, YouTube has quite a library of Mr Gould at work (Postscript: recently many of them have disappeared due to copyright infringement, but many remain.) The later Gould is so wonderful - the most nuanced, the most impassioned. He makes Bach almost sound like a Russian in his depth of passion. His gestures and singing are in no way intrusive for me. Just listen to the angelic music here. And read about my growing familiarity with his work and the effect it's having on my own work and life here
Temper in Teapot time
What happened after my before and after test with JazzTimes Mag, or "why it doesn't matter how you play anymore, but how politically correct you are." No apologies. I'm a Mac Gurl, and I don't do Windows. A quick look at the blowback here
I've said it before: she's the real deal, an artist without compromise. Be sure to visit her web site, where you'll find her paintings, drawings, writings, and more. Spend some time there. You're not going to be sorry, and you'll come away a lot richer. Art is so rare nowadays, and art this good is just about over for awhile, it seems. Get it while you can
The Days of Miracle and Wonder
Paul Simon said it. "These are the days of miracle and wonder" and they sure are! For those who pine for the "good old days", the Xanadu you crave won't be found here. We're now living the reality of the bomb in the baby carriage wired to the radio, the boy in the bubble, the automatic earth, the loose affiliation of millionaires and billionaires. It's a new world now, but it can be a great one...it just means we change the way we think, the way we relate, the way we communicate, the way we DO things...and we have to believe in ourselves and our individual missions with all of our heart and soul. We MAY be watching and participating in the Rebirth of America, and we EACH make a difference. "The way the camera follows us in slo-mo, the way we look to us all..."
Women under Islam
It is said that all war is war against women. This one is particularly gender-specific. I can't contain myself, and why in the world should I? How can any thinking human being NOT speak up against such atrocities? This article comes complete with a chilling video. Get out the Maalox, or avoid altogether. And DO NOT let the children watch. This one is definitely off-limits for the little ones.
I am Legend...another dystopian vision
A new movie is out, it promises cinematic magic, and it stars Will Smith, one enormously gifted actor. "I AM LEGEND." Oh goody. I read the novel by Richard Matheson years ago. See the ultra-cool trailer here. Where I get to see most of my coming attractions now is on-line, at Apple's movie-trailer page...that way I can simultaneously look for software updates and new software while taking in a few visuals. My hobby, besides playing with Angel, is downloading freeware and taking it for a spin. Not the safest game in town, but with a Mac, your hard-drive has better odds of survival. I hope. My late-fave is a core-graphics vector drawing program called DrawBerry. Leopard only.
"Pssst... maybe we should tell her about the new CD..."
Jazz Focus Records is back in business, and they just released their first "new" CD. It's a compilation of my older works for them, and they call it The Best of Jessica Williams, Volume One. Sounds mildy posthumous to me, with an oh-so-subtle hint at more to come. Its release was news to me, but it's nice that they supplied me with a few albums. They're available here, and no, in answer to numerous emails, I did not 'OK' the back cover photo (who IS that???)
Death, but first the taxes
I've lost too many friends recently (Gordon Lynch and Jack Brownlow to name just two). As sax and flute colossus James Moody's grandmother said many times to him, "Folks is dyin' what ain't never died before!" You know it's bad when that starts happening!
Songs of Mass Destruction
Annie Lennox...her new album, Songs of Mass Destruction, is a real blast, a kicker from beginning to end. If it's done right, the way Annie does it, pop music can be downright fun! Her web site is very cool too. You can hear the whole new album here, but not for long
The next Big Step
This Music I play now is not about me. It's not about competition, or being hip, or being admired, or winning polls, or impressing audiences or musicians or critics or anyone. It's part of this new world, and it's part of my mission, and it's part of The Next Big Step. It makes me wonder what Ayn Rand was thinking when she wrote "The Virtue of Selfishness", and it makes me wonder what I was thinking when I read it, all those thousands of years ago...probably not much
I continue to post articles, new poems, and prose in my writings section Currents, neither blog nor book, but simply a place to 'say my prayers' (our beloved Hoosier wordsmith Kurt Vonnegut referred to his writing process that way) and to clear my mind when it needs clearing. The section's relevance to Music is at most times questionable, but every time I try to remove it and slim my site down, someone goes and sends me an e-mail saying how much they enjoyed a particular article or poem (or chastises me for having opinions, which just adds fuel to the creative fire). I am thus disarmed from controlling the sheer tonnage of the Currents directory. The Web has made unwitting (and often witless) writers of many of us. But then, we're ALL Shakespeares under our skull, Hemingways in our heads, Hawthornes in our hearts. It's just the degree of diplomacy with which we handle words that serves up such varied results...