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Claude Williams – Live At J’s – Part 1

Claude Williams, an original member of Count Basie’s first big band, on fiddle & vocals, in all new recordings by this African American master of jazz violin with James Chirillo – guitar; Ron Mathews – piano; Akira Tana or Grady Tate – drums; and Al McKibbon – bass.

Recorded live at “J’s,” New York, N.Y. May 1, 1989.
Also see “Live at J’s, Vol.2” sold seperately.

1. (Going To) Kansas City
2. Billie’s Bounce
3. Our Love Is Here To Stay
4. After You’ve Gone
5. The Fiddler
6. You’re My Desire
7. Wave
8. There Is No Greater Love
9. Li’l Darlin’
10. Just Friends
11. Cherokee
12. Texarkana


“Claude `Fiddler’ Williams is a true jazz original. Born in 1908, Williams was playing guitar, mandolin, banjo, and cello by age 10; after he heard Joe Venuti live, he convinced his family to buy him a violin and went on to become a master of blues, ballads, and be-bop. This disc opens with `Kansas City,’ but the infectiously congenial vocal intro by Williams doesn’t prepare the listener for the remarkably articulate, faster-than-lightning runs that he fires off. Charlie Parker’s `Billie’s Bounce’ is burning be-bop at its ever-loving best, while `The Fiddler,’ an original, is a hell-fire extravaganza that has the flames of bluegrass and Paganini nipping at his heelsbut it never gets the best of this 85-year-old Nero.”

(Mark Hurd — Record Roundup)

“These on-location recordings were made when the venerable Williams was eighty-one years old. His age is apparently no factor though, because he sounds anything but arthritic- more like spry. In fact, he sounds as good as ever and, in Williams’s case, that’s pretty damned good.

As The Fiddler states in the booklet notes, `When I started playing, they weren’t even calling it Jazz!’ Although Grappelli is also a still-active Jazz octogenarian fiddler, Williams is the only remaining link in the Jazz violin lineage who possesses a direct connection with the music’s indigenous roots (after all, Grappelli, while an `authentic’ Jazz original, developed and flourished amidst a largely European aesthetic). The two aging improvisers differ in another significant way too: where Grappelli’s sound can occasionally become overly fussy and ornamental at times, there’s never anything remotely prissy about Williams’s vigorous, bluesy sound. Closer to Nance than to Stuff Smith, Williams offers the straight stuff: no-frills, classic Jazz without much vibrato, hewing close to the changes with loads of feeling.

His vocals are also idiomatic and authentic, with an often masterful control over inflection and phrasing. In short, Claude `Fiddler’ Williams is the genuine article. And so are these CDs. The sound is balanced but has been mastered too low, a problem easily rectified with a little gain boost.

The supporting players stay in the pocket and pianist Mathews proves to be a fine soloist, as does guitarist Chirillo. Since both discs come from the same sets, there’s no reason to recommend one over the other. If your interest in Jazz violin is even slightly more than cursory, get both of these volumes. Thanks to Arhoolie for making these important Jazz violin recordings available.”

(Carl Baugher — Cadence)

“`When I started playing,’ notes Kansas City legend Claude `Fiddler’ Williams, `They weren’t even calling it jazz!’ What they were calling `it’ was swinging and bluesy and when all other linguistic tropes failed great and just plain terrific! Though such tags were first attached to Claude during Kansas City’s `Roaring 1930s,’ today as evidenced by these two toe-tapping discs, they apply with even greater force. Recorded in 1989 at J’s, until recently one of midtown Manhattan’s prime-time jazz venues, Claude’s mesmerizing fiddle has never sounded better!

From start to finish, Williams’ bubbly insouciance and bluesy virtuosity soar against carefully contoured backdrops fashioned by guitarist James Chirillo, pianist Ron Mathews, bassist Al McKibbon, and drummers Akira Tana and Grady Tate. The chemistry could not be more sublime. Recorded while all hands were appearing nightly in the Broadway review, Black and Blue, the shared experiences rapidly evolved into a mutual admiration society of boundless proportions.

The repertory sways with evergreens from the Tin Pan Alley and K.C. traditions. Volume One, for example, includes `Our Love Is Here to Stay’ and `Just Friends,’ as well as a rousing `Billie’s Bounce,’ a poignant `Lil’ Darlin’ and Claude’s sassy vocal on `(Goin’ to) Kansas City.’ For Volume Two, Claude leans into `But Not For Me,’ `On Green Dolphin Street’ and `There Will Never Be Another You,’ as well as Williams’ own `Fiddler’s Dream’ and Frank Smith’s `One for the Count.’

The group’s joie de vivre is palpable, poignant and often profound. Its overall restraint, subtlety and interactive elan, even on white-flame burners like `Cherokee,’ are impressive. With estab-lished pros like Mathews, McKibbon, Tana and Tate one expects consummate professionalism. And that’s exactly what we get.

The big surprise is guitarist James Chirillo, a thoughtful accompanist whose tasty solos add grit and grace. Producer Russ Dantzler and Arhoolie are to be congratulated for providing Claude with a first class and sympathetic rhythm section. Thankfully, they’ve stood back and let the players play. Recording quality is first-rate. Each disc runs just under 70 minutes with 12 tracks on Volume One, and 11 on Volume Two.

Also helpful are Dantzler’s incisive liner notes. Now 85-years-young, Claude `Fiddler’ Williams, like `Ol’ Man River,’ just keeps rolling along. And though Kansas Citians now have to share his magnanimous talent with audiences around the world, Claude, along with the likes of Jay McShann and Pat Metheny, continues to keep the Kansas City tradition fresh and vital. ”

(Chuck Berg — JAM)

Published inArhoolie Jazz