Buster Williams plays Agharta
He was once The Man-and still going strong
Posted: October 16, 2013
Buster Williams has playing bass for more than half a century.
Acoustic and electric bass legend Buster Williams brings his quartet to Agharta Jazz Centrum for two performances with veteran avant garde player Joey Baron on drums and up-and-coming younger players Bruce Williams on saxophone and Eric Scott Reed on piano.
Williams, born in1942, has been playing with jazz heavyweights for over 50 years since the early '60s when he got started as a double bassist for saxophonist Jimmy Heath, then soon afterward, he toured and recorded with saxophonists Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt. These were his foundation years as a bebop/hard bop player and though he has gone to play in an array of progressive jazz genres, as well as soul and rhythm and blues, over the next decades, his quartet is a return to his roots, with veterans and up-and-coming players from the New York/New Jersey area.
When: Oct. 21 at 8 and 10:15
Where: Agharta Jazz Centrum
Over the years, Williams has played with Chet Baker, Gil Evans, Dexter Gordon, Illinois Jacquet, Woody Shaw, McCoy Tyner, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, and jazz divas Betty Carter and Sarah Vaughn. And it was on a tour with Vaughn that he first met a key future collaborator for a later phase.
"I joined Sarah Vaughn in 1960 in NYC and once we went to the French Riviera on a European tour," Williams told The Prague Post by telephone from his home in Camden, New Jersey. "I met Miles there in Juan les Pins in 1963, when I was with Sarah Vaughn and Miles was with his quartet. He was with George Coleman, the saxophonist, Tony Williams on drums, Ron Carter, his bassist and he was with Herbie."
Williams is referring to the period when Miles Davis' was just bringing together his famous second quintet, which included Herbie Hancock on piano. In 1968, after living in Los Angeles from 1965-68 to play with Nancy Wilson, Williams returned to New York and soon joined Hancock's group, recording on some of Hancock's most soulful post-bop and experimental sessions, including The Prisoner (1969), his last recording for Blue Note Records, a tour-de-force social commentary with a groove tribute to Martin Luther King, who was killed in 1968.
This was followed by Fat Albert Rotunda (1969), which was intended as a soundtrack for the children's animation show Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, and while this album is Hancock's first and only excursion into funky-soul jazz, it's a predecessor to his jazz funk Headhunters period from 1973.
Williams appears to co-lead Hancock's groups for the next few years, known as the Mwandishi sessions from 1971 to '73 including Mwandishi (1971), Crossings (1972), and Sextant (1973). Most songs on these recordings begin with Williams' fat-bass lines repeating over and again in short melodic patterns while the other players take turns coming in and out with more spacey, atmospheric explorations, and Hancock slowly gets more deeply experimental in his free-form use of electronics.
So much attention is paid to this period only to point out that a French TV live appearance by Hancock, with Williams and the rest of the sextet from 1972 is on You Tube, and for this session, the group with Williams out front is at the top of its game, and arguably Williams is the baddest jazz bassist of the era.
Overall, the group is forward-looking and sounding more contemporary than most jazz groups today. "I like what we were doing back then, but just as with the band I have now - I like to do everything that I'm doing, the best that I can. But I knew that what we were doing was very exciting." Williams said about that era.
And so these days, Williams is busy writing and recording his own music, but still with the up-front boldness established from his days with Herbie Hancock, and while at times harking back to the earlier bebop years, Williams is a contemporary voice - his is not a look back and rejoice, oldies jazz show.
Tony Ozuna can be reached at