Renowned pianist James Williams will be the guest artist at the Fairfield University Jazz Ensemble's Spring Concert


The Fairfield University Jazz Ensemble will welcome internationally known pianist and composer James Williams as guest artist at its spring concert on Tuesday, April 8. Two performances will take place at 7 and 8:30 p.m. in the university's Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts.

Fairfield University's Director of Jazz and Popular Music Brian Torff, a noted bassist and composer, will lead the ensemble through a program of standards and innovative new works, including "Aqueous" by freshman Nicholas Young and "Piano Players Don't Drink Soda" by sophomore Sean Barrett. Senior bassist Larry Valliere will be featured on Torff's arrangement of The Beatles' "Lady Madonna."

The Jazz Ensemble is an accomplished group of university students, who often invite notable guest artists to join them in concert. Past guests have included members of Blood, Sweat & Tears and Spyro Gyra and soul diva Aretha Franklin.

Mr. Williams, an active player on the jazz scene for more than 20 years, brings blues and gospel overtones to his soulful playing. Named alongside Diana Krall and Keith Jarrett as Jazz Artist of the Year in the 1999 Downbeat Annual Critics' Poll, he extends his considerable influence as a seasoned composer, producer and teacher.

Born in Memphis, Tenn., Mr. Williams grew up listening to Ray Charles, Booker T. Washington, Marvin Gaye and Ramsey Lewis. He began formal piano studies at 13 and soon became the organist at Eastern Star Baptist Church in Memphis, a position he held for six years.

Mr. Williams earned a bachelor of science degree in music education at Memphis State University, taking time to delve into his hometown's rich jazz tradition. At 22, he moved to Boston to teach at Berklee College of Music, joining drummer Alan Dawson's group a year later.

In 1977, Mr. Williams recorded his first album as a band leader, debuted his first original compositions and met Art Blakey, who eventually wooed him away from Berklee to join the renowned Jazz Messengers. The decision would put him in the company of fellow Messengers Wynton Marsalis, Bobby Watson, Billy Pierce and Charles Fambrough. During his four-year tenure, the group recorded a staggering 10 albums.

Now living in New York City, Mr. Williams is in demand as an accompanist and sideman, having toured and recorded with Dizzy Gillespie, Elvin Jones, Art Farmer, Kenny Burrell and many others. Still interested in bringing his jazz knowledge to the next generation, he is the director of Jazz Studies at William Patterson University in New Jersey and has held teaching and artist-in-residence appointments at Dartmouth College, Harvard University, the New England Conservatory of Music and the Hartt School of Music in Connecticut among others.

Tickets to the Jazz Ensemble concert are $8, $5 for students. For tickets, call the Quick Center box office at (203) 2540-4010 or toll free at 1-877-ARTS-396.

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on March 6, 2003

Vol. 35, No. 226