Tony Williams (drummer)

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Tony Williams
A black-and-white photo of Williams seated
Background information
Birth name Anthony Tillmon Williams
Born (1945-12-12)December 12, 1945
Chicago, Illinois, US
Origin Boston, Massachusetts, US
Died February 23, 1997(1997-02-23) (aged 51)
Daly City, California, US
Genres Jazz, post-bop, jazz fusion
Occupation(s) Musician, composer, producer and bandleader
Instruments Drums
Years active 1961–1997
Associated acts Miles Davis, The Tony Williams Lifetime, Sam Rivers, Jackie McLean, Alan Dawson, V.S.O.P., Public Image Ltd.

Anthony Tillmon Williams (December 12, 1945 – February 23, 1997) was an American jazz drummer.

Williams first gained fame in the band of trumpeter Miles Davis and was a pioneer of jazz fusion,[1] he was inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame in 1986.[2]

Life and career[edit]

Tony Williams in Half Moon Bay, California, 1986.

Williams was born in Chicago and grew up in Boston, he was of African, Portuguese, and Chinese descent.[3] He studied with drummer Alan Dawson at an early age, and began playing professionally at the age of 13 with saxophonist Sam Rivers. Saxophonist Jackie McLean hired Williams when he was 16.[citation needed]

At 17 Williams found considerable fame with Miles Davis, joining a group that was later dubbed Davis's Second Great Quintet. Williams was a vital element of the group, called by Davis in his autobiography "the center that the group's sound revolved around."[4] His inventive playing helped redefine the role of the jazz rhythm section through the use of polyrhythms and metric modulation, moving between mathematically related tempos and/or time signatures.[citation needed]

Williams was an integral participant in the early- to mid-1960s avant-garde movement, playing on such classics as Jackie McLean's One Step Beyond, Grachan Moncur III's Evolution and Some Other Stuff, Sam Rivers's Fuchsia Swing Song, Andrew Hill's Point of Departure, and Eric Dolphy's Out to Lunch. His first album as a leader, 1964's Life Time, was also in the avant-garde vein.[citation needed]

In 1969, he formed a trio, the Tony Williams Lifetime, with John McLaughlin on guitar and Larry Young on organ. Lifetime was a pioneering band of the fusion movement, a combination of rock, R&B, and jazz.[citation needed] Their first album was Emergency!. After McLaughlin and Bruce's departure, and several more albums, Lifetime disbanded; in 1975, Williams put together a band he called "The New Tony Williams Lifetime", featuring bassist Tony Newton, pianist Alan Pasqua, and English guitarist Allan Holdsworth, which recorded two albums for Columbia Records, Believe It and Million Dollar Legs.[citation needed]

In mid-1976, Williams was a part of a reunion with his colleagues from the Miles Davis band: keyboardist Herbie Hancock, bassist Ron Carter, and saxophonist Wayne Shorter. Davis was in the midst of a six-year hiatus and was "replaced" by Freddie Hubbard, the record was later released as V.S.O.P and was highly influential in increasing the popularity of acoustic jazz.[citation needed] The group went on to tour and record for several years, releasing a series of live albums under the name "V.S.O.P." or "V.S.O.P.: The Quintet".[citation needed]

In 1979, Williams, McLaughlin and bassist Jaco Pastorius united for a one-time performance at the Havana Jazz Festival, this trio came to be known as the Trio of Doom, and a recording of their performance (along with some studio tracks recorded in New York shortly thereafter) was released in 2007. It opens with a powerful drum improvisation by Williams, followed by McLaughlin's "Dark Prince" and Pastorius' "Continuum", Williams' original composition "Para Oriente" and McLaughlin's "Are You the One?" Williams and Pastorius had also played together on the Herbie Hancock track "Good Question" from his 1978 album Sunlight.[citation needed]

With the group Fuse One, Williams released two albums in 1980 and 1982;[5] in 1985, he recorded an album for Blue Note Records entitled Foreign Intrigue, which featured the playing of pianist Mulgrew Miller and trumpeter Wallace Roney.[citation needed]

Later that year he formed a quintet with Miller, Roney, saxophonist Bill Pierce, and bassist Charnett Moffett (later Ira Coleman), this band played Williams' compositions almost exclusively (the Lennon–McCartney song "Blackbird", the standard "Poinciana", and the Freddie Hubbard blues "Birdlike" being the exceptions) and toured and recorded throughout the remainder of the 1980s and into the early 1990s. This rhythm section also recorded as a trio.[citation needed]

Williams also played drums for the band Public Image Limited, fronted by former Sex Pistols singer John Lydon, on their 1986 release Album/Cassette/Compact Disc (the album title varied depending on the format). He played on the songs "FFF", "Rise" (a modest hit), and "Home". Bass guitarist Bill Laswell co-wrote those three songs with Lydon, the other drummer on that album was Ginger Baker.[citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

Williams lived and taught in the San Francisco Bay Area until his death from a heart attack following routine gall bladder surgery.[6][7] One of his final recordings was The Last Wave by the trio known as Arcana, a release organized by Bill Laswell.[8]


As leader[edit]

  • 1964: Life Time (Blue Note)
  • 1965: Spring (Blue Note)
  • 1969: Emergency! (Verve)
  • 1970: Turn It Over (Verve)
  • 1971: Ego (Polydor)
  • 1972: The Old Bum's Rush (Polydor)
  • 1975: Believe It (Columbia)
  • 1976: Million Dollar Legs (Columbia)
  • 1975, 1976 The Collection (Columbia) - Believe It and Million Dollar Legs issued as one CD (1992)
  • 1979: The Joy of Flying (Columbia)
  • 1980: Play or Die (P.S. Productions) – with Tom Grant and Patrick O'Hearn[9]
  • 1985: Foreign Intrigue (Blue Note)
  • 1986: Civilization (Blue Note)
  • 1988: Angel Street (Blue Note)
  • 1989: Native Heart (Blue Note)
  • 1991: The Story of Neptune (Blue Note)
  • 1992: Tokyo Live (Blue Note)
  • 1996: Wilderness (Ark 21)
  • 1996: Young at Heart (Columbia)

As sideman[edit]

With Geri Allen

With Arcana

With Chet Baker

With George Cables

With Ron Carter

With Stanley Clarke

With Miles Davis

With Eric Dolphy

With Kenny Dorham

With Gil Evans

With Tommy Flanagan

With Hal Galper

With Stan Getz

With Dexter Gordon

  • Round Midnight (1986)

With Herbie Hancock

With Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter and Wallace Roney

With Jonas Hellborg and the Soldier String Quartet

  • The Word (1991)

With Joe Henderson

With Andrew Hill

With Terumasa Hino

  • May Dance (1977)

With Allan Holdsworth

With Hank Jones

With Charles Lloyd

With Michael Mantler

  • Movies (1977)

With Ray Manzarek

With Branford Marsalis

With Wynton Marsalis

  • Wynton Marsalis (1981)

With John McLaughlin

  • Johnny McLaughlin: Electric Guitarist (1978)

With Jackie McLean

With Marcus Miller

  • The Sun Don't Lie (1990–92)

With Mulgrew Miller

With Grachan Moncur III

With Jaco Pastorius and John McLaughlin

With Michel Petrucciani

  • Marvellous (1994)

With Pop Workshop

  • Song For The Pterodactyl (1974)

With Public Image Limited

With Don Pullen

With Sam Rivers

With Sonny Rollins

With Wallace Roney

  • Verses (1987)

With Travis Shook

  • Travis Shook (1993)

With Wayne Shorter

With McCoy Tyner

With Sadao Watanabe & Great Jazz Trio (Hank Jones/Ron Carter)

  • I'm Old Fashioned (East Wind, 1976)

With Weather Report



  1. ^ Yanow, Scott. "Profile". Retrieved June 28, 2017. 
  2. ^ "Modern Drummer's Readers Poll Archive, 1979–2014". Modern Drummer. Retrieved August 10, 2015. 
  3. ^ "Tony Williams Interview 1995". Retrieved March 27, 2012. 
  4. ^ Miles The Autobiography, Picador, 1989, p. 254.
  5. ^ "Allmusic Fuse One Discography". Retrieved June 28, 2017. 
  6. ^ OLIVER, MYRNA (1997-02-26). "Tony Williams; Innovative Jazz Drummer, Fusion Pioneer". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2017-09-26. 
  7. ^ Watrous, Peter (1997-02-26). "Tony Williams, 51, Drummer Renowned as a Jazz Innovator". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-09-26. 
  8. ^ "Arcana: The Last Wave - JazzTimes". JazzTimes. Retrieved 2017-09-26. 
  9. ^ "Tony Williams* - Play or Die (Vinyl, LP, Album)". Retrieved June 28, 2017.