Claude Williams: Cherokee




Claude Williams (violin)


Live at J's, Vol. 1 (Arhoolie 405)

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Claude Williams (violin), James Chirillo (guitar), Ronnie Matthews (piano), Al McKibbon (bass), Akira Tana (drums).

Composed by Ray Noble


Recorded: live at J"s, New York City, May 1, 1989


Rating: 96/100 (learn more)

Claude Williams was the 85-year old senior member of the orchestra for the Black and Blue revue on Broadway when he was recorded live at J's jazz club in 1989. His first recordings, on both violin and guitar, came in 1929, and he won the Downbeat poll as "Best Guitarist" after playing on Count Basie's first Decca recordings, only briefly preceding Freddie Green's long reign in that chair with Basie, with whom Williams was also featured on violin. Williams worked frequently with Jay McShann in the '70's, and in 1980 began playing the violin exclusively. The taped Monday night sessions at J's showcased his distinctive Kansas City swing style on the instrument. This is jazz violin as "fiddle," more in keeping with the earthy, rawer approaches of Stuff Smith or Ray Nance than the more romantic, classically polished presentation of a Stéphane Grappelli. Williams had come a long way technically by 1989 from his earliest recorded violin solos some 60 years prior in 1929 with Andy Kirk's Twelve Clouds of Joy, which were described by Gunther Schuller in his The Swing Era as either "country-ish" or "rather tortured, uncertain."

Al McKibbon's relentless thumping bass, Akira Tana's prodding drum rhythms, and Ronnie Mathews' more laid-back, sparse comping provide Williams with the cushion he needs to navigate the changes of "Cherokee" with genuine feeling and vivacity. His long, smoking solo is both fleet and authoritative, packed with dissonant inflections, breakneck breezy lines, and rapidly bowed, almost boppish, riffs and modulations. Guitarist James Chirillo plays several fresh and nimble chrouses with a twangy, appealing sound. Mathews' melodious solo is equally well-executed, and unwavering in its development. McKibbon and Tana say their piece as well before Williams sails lustily through the familiar theme once again.

Reviewer: Scott Albin

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