Jessica Williams: Reviews and Bio
Pianist Dave Brubeck called her "one of the greatest pianists I've ever heard."
Bill Evans, who requested her to share the stage with him on numerous concerts, remarked, "Where the heck did she come from?"
She is a holder of the distinguished Guggenheim Fellowship, has released 75 cds and LP records in a career spanning well over 40 years, and is considered by some critics to be one of the most important improvising pianists of this age.
Jessica was born in Baltimore, Maryland in March of 1948.
Jessica began playing piano at the age of four, at her grandmother's house. She remembers the powerful experience of playing her first note and seeing a ball of brilliant color float to the ceiling and gradually dissipate. Music has since been a very visual experience for her.
At seven she began formal lessons. At nine, showing a gift for music far beyond her peers, she was enrolled in the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, where she studied piano with the renowned pianist and teacher, Richard Aitken. She also studied composition, theory, and "ear training" with the great George Bellows.
Her first jazz experience was hearing Dave Brubeck's "Take Five". Her second experience was hearing Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue". John Coltrane was to become a major influence on how she approached the piano. She was also influenced by Thelonious Monk, Dexter Gordon, Randy Weston, and McCoy Tyner. Her music reflects almost every major jazz player from the 1950's on.
She began playing professionally in 1962 at age 14. She played in her home-town of Baltimore with Jimmy Wells, Buck Hill, Ethel Ennis, Mickey Fields, and others.
She moved to Philadelphia in her mid-twenties and became a member of the 'Philly Joe' Jones Quintet. While there, she played with Lex Humphries, Byard Lancaster, Reggie Workman, Sunny Murray, Wilbur Ware, and others. Her first husband suggested a move to San Francisco in late 1976, and soon she was playing opposite the finest jazz players in the world as house pianist at the famed Keystone Korner from 1977 until its closure in 1983.
She made five LPs during this period.
After her second marriage she was off-stage for a while, but came back strong in 1990 upon signing with Timeless Records (Holland). She followed that success with a continuous barrage of trio recordings that were well-received, often with great enthusiasm. Over the years her interest in electronic music and sound synthesis evolved, and her use of digital music was mostly dismissed by the jazz world as "not real jazz".
Jessica played in the bands of Eddie Harris, "Philly Joe" Jones, Stan Getz, Art Blakey, Tony Williams, Airto and Flora, and others. She also traveled around the world playing solo recitals in concert halls from the mid-1990's onward.
She moved to Washington State in 2005, where she decided to pursue solo piano recordings and performances. Her solo work on CD is the music she is most fond of, and is largely comprised of her original compositions.
Her newest works are influenced by the musical cultures of India, Africa, The Middle East, Japan, China, and Western Europe. She calls her present style of playing "flow", which contains much improvisation but with a strong structural integrity.
Jessica loves people, dogs, the natural world, good movies, and good books. She is also very spiritual and believes that people are basically good inside and are all of one race, the human race.
She writes poetry, keeps a blog, and runs her own Internet business, jessicawilliams.com
Jessica Williams' one greatest passion will forever remain the piano.
"One of the greatest jazz pianists I have ever heard." -Dave Brubeck
"Jessica is a beautiful player." -McCoy Tyner
"The most important pianist to arrive since Bill Evans." -Alun Morgan, Gramophone
"I"m running out of superlatives to describe her playing!" -Humphrey Littleton, BBC
"A vibrant force on the contemporary music scene." -Rolling Stone
"She should be heard by everyone who cares about jazz." -William Stephenson, Jazziz Magazine
"Jessica Williams ... the great living lyric poet of the piano. She is utterly magnificent." -Jeff Simon, Buffalo News ...
"I will say on record that I think she is the finest pianist of our time. And her records are bar none, the most consistently immaculate and for your hard-earned dollars, a Jessica Williams album is a no-brainer" -Fred Jung, All About Jazz ...
"I could review Jessica Williams' newest release in a single phrase - one of the finest solo piano albums I've ever heard. Impeccable taste, remarkable technique, pristine sound and boundless inspiration." -Jack Bowers, All About Jazz ...
"This is easy. Jessica Williams doesn't make bad records." -JazzNow, Lawrence Brazier ...
"Jessica Williams is an outstanding jazz talent, and probably the finest improvising pianist in jazz today." -Pat Hawes, Jazz Journal International
"Among the most lyrical and expressive pianists in jazz." -Andrew Gilbert, Contra Costa Times ...
"She is simply a pianistic force of nature that will not be denied. As with her previous, releases, this will have a place on my best-of-the-year list." -C. Michael Bailey, All About Jazz ...
"Williams has a beautiful touch, and great fluency of both imagination and execution." -Peter Westbrook, Jazz Review ...
"There is nothing Jessica Williams can't do on a piano, and she is one of jazz's most unique, talented and important voices." -Terrell Holmes, All About Jazz ...
"She is one of the top jazz pianists of today, a powerful virtuoso whose complete control of the keyboard, wit, and solid sense of swing have combined to make her a particularly notable player. Although she appeared on Charlie Rouse's final record and gigged steadily, Williams was largely off record, outside of her own private label Red and Blue, until re-emerging in the late '80s as a brilliant solo acoustic player. She is a giant, consistently brilliant." - Scott Yanow, The All Music Guide
"The trio CD Live at Yoshi's: Volume One, recorded in 2003, finds the eclectic veteran demonstrating the rich and varied two-handed interplay that sets Williams apart from her peers. Despite the obvious empathy of the Williams Drummond Lewis triumvirate, the leader's dexterous work leaves little doubt that she could handle the whole shebang all by herself, if need be." -JazzTimes, January 2005, Steve Futterman ...
Jessica Williams has worked or played with:
- Philly Joe Jones
- Tony Williams
- Eddie Harris
- Stan Getz
- Leroy Vinnegar
- Big Nick Nicholaus
- Flora Purim
- Charlie Rouse
- John Abercrombie
- Charlie Haden
- Larry Gales
- Red Mitchell
- Bobby Hutherson
- Nancy King
- Ethel Ennis
- Domita Jo
- Herbie Lewis
- Dave Young
- Reggie Workman
- Bobby McFerrin
- Victor Lewis
- Ray Drummond
- Mel Brown
- Dave Captein
- Jeff Johnson
- Red Mitchell
- Leroy Vinnegar
- Dave Friesen
- Jeff Ballard
- Eddie Marshall
- Jay Clayton
- Gary Bartz
- Lex Humphries
- Eddie Moore
- Gaylord Birch
- Glenn Moore
- Patty Waters
- John Bishop
- Doug Miller
- Aiko Shimada
- Ron McClure
- Mike Clark
- Bill Evans
- Dexter Gordon
- McCoy Tyner
- Randy Weston
- George Cables
- John Lewis
- Ray Bryant
- Benny Green
- Joanne Brackeen
- Oscar Peterson
- Kenny Barron
- Junior Mance
- Bob Cranshaw
- Grady Tate
- Sarah Vaughn
- Marion McPartland
- Pharoah Sanders
- Art Blakey
- Marvin Smitty Smith
- Steve Allen
- Mary Lou Williams
- Billy Higgins
Jessica Williams' Awards and Honors:
- John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship
- Grammy Nominee 1986, Best Instrumental Jazz Album
- National Endowment for the Arts ('88, '92)
- Alice B Toklas Fellowship Money for Women 1993
- Rockerfeller Grant 1990
- Record of the Year 1994, 1995, Jazz Journal International
- Presented a plaque of civic appreciation from Mayor Anne Rudin (CA)
- Meet the Composer Grant 1991
- Keys to the City of Sacramento 1989
- Sacramento Arts Commission, four grants, 1984-88
- Keys to the City of San Mateo 1997
- Artist of the Year Award Santa Cruz County 2002
- One of the TOP 5 CDs of 2000 (JazzTimes Critics Poll; In the Key of Monk)
- One of the TOP 5 CDs of 1999 (JazzTimes Critics Poll; Joyful Sorrow)
- 27 ASCAP Awards Panel Grants for composition
- Grammy Nominee 2004, Best Instrumental Jazz Album
- 2005 Best Jazz Album of the Year (Live at Yoshi's, Vol 2), All About Jazz
- Opened the Mary Lou WIlliams Women In Jazz Festival at the Kennedy Center in May, 2006, 2005
She has performed at:
- Mary Lou Williams Jazz Festival (twice), Art Tatum Jazz Festival, and Piano Summit (twice) at The Kennedy Center in Washington DC
- Merkin Hall and Carnegie Hall NYC
- The Royal Festival Hall in London
- Campbell Recital Hall at Stanford CA
- Sheshlow Auditorium in Iowa
- Bern Jazz Festival
- Spoleto Jazz Festival in SC
- Duke University in Durham NC
- North Sea Jazz Festival in Holland
- Telluride Jazz Festival in Colorado
- Ottawa Jazz Festival
- Monterey Jazz Festival
- Seattle Jazz Festival
- West Canada Jazz Festival
- Wigan Jazz Festival in UK
- Norway's Molde Jazz Festival
- Italy's La Spezia Jazz Festival
- Japan and South Korea for Fujitsu's 100 Gold Fingers
- San Francisco Jazz Festival
- Anacortes Jazz Festival in WA
- Healdsburg Jazz Festival in CA
- Ireland's County Cork Jazz Festival
- Brecon Jazz Festival in Wales
- Gateshead Art Centre in UK
- Darlington Arts Centre in UK
- Steinway Performance Space in Seattle WA
- Jazz Alley and Triple Door in Seattle WA
- Bimhaus in Holland
- Domicil in Germany
- Most major festivals in Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland
- Reno Jazz Festival
- The Boston Pops Musica Viva
- Marin Center for the Performing Arts
- Mendocino Music Festival
- Great American Music Hall in CA
- Cotati Jazz Festival in CA, Russian River Festival in CA, Keystone Korner in CA, Yoshi's and Kimball's in CA, Kuumbwa Jazz Center in CA,
- Spivey Hall in GA
- New Morning in Paris
- Art Hall in Santander Spain
- Detroit Art Museum
- San Jose Art Museum
- SF Art Museum
- War Memorial Hall in CA
- Blues Alley in Washington DC
- Lush Life in NYC
- Mill at the Pier, Wigan UK
- University of Warwick, Coventry UK
- Central Library, Portsmouth UK
- San Sabastian in Spain
- Cathedral Park Jazz Festival in OR
- Stanford Jazz Piano Series in CA
- Calgary Jazz Festival, Medicine Hat Jazz Festival, and Edmonton Jazz Festival in Canada
- Rosza Center in Calgary Canada
- Cheltenham Town Hall in UK, Swansea, Taliesin Arts Centre and Gateshead Central Library in UK
- Dundee, Scotland Festival
- Jersey, Channel Islands, many others
She has been the featured artist on:
NPR"s Terry Gross' Fresh Air (hear it); Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz (hear it); PBS Clubdate; Boston Musica Viva Artist Series, BBC, Desert Island Jazz, Cabrillo Distinguished Artist Series, Stanford Artist series, many others
- Interview with Philip Clark of Jazz Review
- Interview with Fred Jung of Jazz Weekly
- Interview with Terry Gross, Fresh Air (audio)
- Interview with Marian McPartland (audio)
- Interview with BBC1 (video)
"Some Ballads Some Blues is the most important work of Jessica Williams' substantial career." -Fred Jung of Jazz Weekly ...
"Freedom Trane provides that special sort of chill that comes from hearing great music— and this is most definitely great music, made by a great (and sadly underrated artist). This is a high quality and highly recommended performance by Williams, a consummate musician of astonishing grace, passion and skill." - Jeff Winbush, All About Jazz, 2012
"Jessica Williams doesn't make bad records." -JazzNow, Lawrence Brazier ...
"Jessica Williams is one of the great jazz pianists of our time." -Bill Smith, The Oregonian
"She is the complete package." -C. Michael Bailey, All About Jazz ...
"Nothing short of brilliant." - Sidney Bechet-Mandela, JazzUSA ...
"Jessica Williams is one of the most remarkable pianists in jazz today. Her apparently limitless technique allows her to express her fresh and colorful ideas spontaneously." -Scott Yanow, JAZZIZ, The All Music Guide
"When she improvises, it"s a bit like listening to Lester Young or Sonny Rollins when it's really happening." -Tom Chandler of Rasputin's ...
"Over the past few years I have written some thousands of words in appreciation of this great artist, but I never cease to be amazed at her phenomenal technique, good taste, imagination, sense of fun, swing, and, above all, her ability to make everything sound bright, new, fresh, and exciting." -Pat Hawes, JAZZ JOURNAL International
"Certainly she is the most poetic of all living jazz pianists... everyone who has heard her play is a little bit in love with her." -Jeff Simon, Buffalo News ...
"Apart from phenomenal technique and a hugely fertile imagination, she has the rare ability to draw listeners into her private musical world and hold them there, enthralled." -Dave Gelly, The London Observer
"This Side Up" among "Best Jazz CDs of 2002" -Gary Giddins, Village Voice
"Jessica Williams ought be routinely mentioned as a living giant of jazz piano." -Bob Powers ...
"One of the genuine highlights of my listening year so far." -Shaun Dale of Jazz Review ...
"It"s no secret that Jessica Williams is one of the more versatile and astonishing pianists out there." George Fendel, Jazzscene Magazine ...
"Jessica Williams proves once again that she is one of her generation's leading jazz pianists." -Don Williamson, 52nd Street Jazz ...
"Greatness is a rare commodity. Only achieved by that rare few with the ability to take their talent and bring it into a realm that others can only dream about. Jessica Williams possesses such greatness." -Rick Overall, The Ottawa Sun ...
"A brilliantly incisive player with a deft sure touch, Williams' command of her instrument is outstanding. But she is far more than a superb technician." -THE VIRGIN ENCYCLOPEDIA OF JAZZ edited by Colin Larkin
"Ms.Williams is the equal of any pianist today. (Which is saying a great deal in a Jazz world full of brilliant pianists.) As good as piano Jazz gets." -Stephen Calhoun
"The best trio outing I have heard this year." -C. Michael Bailey, All About Jazz ...
"This Side Up receives an early nomination for best jazz album of 2002." - Jim Santella, All About Jazz ...
Articles by Andy Gilbert, Marianne Messina, in the San Jose Mercury here
Reviews about This Side Up, her trio cd with Victor Lewis and Ray Drummond here
Reviews about This Side Up, All Alone, JazzTimes, August 2002 here
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