Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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WILLIAMS, Jessica

(b 17 March 1948, Baltimore MD) Pianist, leader, composer. Classically trained (Peabody Conservatory), a player with soul, fast fingers and a percussive style. Early sets were The Portal on Antrim and two-LP Portraits on Adelphi, followed by Rivers Of Memory, Orgonomic Music and Update on Clean Cuts '77-83, establishing her as an up-and-comer, though she was slow to become better known due to a certain reluctance to travel. During the '80s she was known as Jessica Jennifer Williams, played synths and overdubbed herself on bass and drums, releasing albums on her own Quanta and EarArt labels. Then a trio disc Nothin' But The Truth on Blackhawk '86 (with John Wiitala and drummer Bud Spangler, who had been with her for several years) was a set of Monk tunes, Monk-influenced originals and a couple of standards, revealing considerable control and a complex yet playful lyricism. Trumpeter's Revenge '87 was a tape on Tomcat (with Tom Peron); And Then, There's This! '90 on Timeless had Kenny Wollesen replacing Spangler, another set of well-integrated Monk-influenced playing, except 'Fluke': a bravura solo duet with her own two hands. Vol. 21 in Concord's solo Live At Maybeck Recital Hall series '92 was a more introspective ballad set, making use of space yet with the influence of Lennie Tristano heard here and there, as well as her own sense of humour.

Her debut on the Jazz Focus label was Arrival '93, a solo set recorded in Canada with the emphasis on the classical training, the bravura side coming out, technique never in doubt. Momentum '97 (made in Portland, with Jeff Johnson and Dick Berk) again made critics ask 'Why isn't she more famous?', with blues, hard bop and fireworks, as on 'You Do Something To Me', where she played opposing rhythms in each hand, the fireworks always serving the music. Encounters '94 was again in Portland, with Leroy Vinnegar and Mel Brown, the humour to the fore, with apposite quotes, false endings and (e.g. on her own 'The Sheik') deviously complex rhythms. More albums were solo The Next Step, trios In the Pocket and A Song That I Heard, all on Hep. She switched to Candid for Gratitude '96 and Higher Standards '97 (still with Mel Brown), the latter demonstrating yet again that she is a formidable trio player, able to blow away the cobwebs from the likes of 'A Night In Tunisia' and 'Mack The Knife'.

Continuing to record prolifically, her Songs For A New Century on Origin was recorded in January 2008. Her bag of tricks combined with her formidable technique is absolutely unique, and life-enhancing. Her website and CD shop are here.