Obscure Trumpet Masters #11 – Richard Williams

Richard Williams (1931 – 1985)

Richard Williams

“Richard Williams was a strong soloist with a big sound and a wide range, so it seems odd that his career did not go much further…He seemed poised for stardom when he recorded his one album as a leader… but there were no encores.” – Scott Yanow in Trumpet Kings

When I completed the first ten in the Obscure Trumpet Masters series last year, I always intended to return to it to make a few additions when necessary. Though it took me a bit longer than intended, I’m back with the first of a few more great jazz trumpeters who somehow escaped public acclaim.

Though he had a common sounding name, Richard Gene Williams’ trumpet sound was anything but common. Williams was born in Galveston, TX. He started on the tenor sax in high school before turning to the trumpet.  He earned a degree in music from Wiley College, an HBCU in Marshall, TX.  After graduating from Wiley, Williams served in the US Air Force from 1952 – 1956. Upon his discharge he joined Lionel Hampton’s Big Band for a European Tour. Once the tour ended, Williams earned his Master’s Degree at the Manhattan School of Music and then hit the bricks to try his luck on the tough NYC Jazz Scene.

He met with some success in New York. Williams was hired in 1959 by Charles Mingus for the band that the bass legend was forming for the Newport Festival that year.  He appeared on some of Mingus’ greatest recordings, including Mingus Ah Um;  Mingus Dynasty and The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady. Williams would continue to work sporadically with Mingus over the years.  Another very fruitful relationship began in 1960, when Williams was hired by Gigi Gryce. You’ll hear Richard on Gryce’s classics, Rat Race Blues and The Hap’nin’s, where Williams solos unforgettably, on one of Gryce’s best known compositions, “Minority”.

It was also 1960 when Richard Williams recorded his first and only album as a leader New Horn in Town, for Candid Records, with support from the fine altoist, Leo Wright, his Gryce band mate Richard Wyands on piano, Reggie Workman on bass and Bobby Thomas on drums.  It was (and still is) a terrific album, with strong solos and great writing from Williams and first-rate support from Wright, Wyands and the others. In spite of the quality of the playing and the “thumbs up” from the critics, New Horn in Town went nowhere and Williams never helmed another date.

This does not mean that Williams lacked for work. Because he was musically educated and technically proficient, he remained quite busy over the years, landing in the trumpet sections of the bands of Duke Ellington, Gil Evans, Oliver Nelson and Thad Jones-Mel Lewis, among others. He also did some work in the classical field and in Broadway show pits, most notably for The Wiz. During his later years, Richard Williams led his own group on a European Tour and joined the Mingus tribute group Mingus Dynasty.

Richard Gene Williams succumbed to Renal Cancer in 1985, at just 54 years old. Though he inexplicably never led another session after New Horn in Town, we can can still enjoy his stellar work on that record and his impressive works as a sideman.

Recommended Recordings:

5 Responses to “Obscure Trumpet Masters #11 – Richard Williams”

  1. fascinating read – and Trumpet Kings is such a good

  2. Trumpet Kings is such a good book!

  3. I was a good friend of Richard,though 15 years younger.Unfortunately he was a heavy drinker and because of this I ended up driving him to many of his gigs.Richard played at my brother’s wedding in ’69,and at my mother’s retirement party in’83-two years later he died. I still have an invitation to his 40th birthday party, and have several recordings we did in his living room and at some local clubs.He hated working with the Wiz. He was a great guy and my musical career wouldn’t have been the same without him.

  4. Check out his playing on Yusef Lateef’s “Live at Peps”, one of the great live recordings

  5. Check out his playing on Yusef Lateef’s “Live at Peps” with the marvellous James Black on drums

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