IN A CAREER THAT SPANS MORE THAN
40 years, John B. Williams has performed
with some the world’s most renowned
jazz artists—Nancy Wilson, Horace Silver,
Count Basie, Louie Bellson, Billy Cobham,
Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, and the
Manhattan Transfer, to name a few. He was
a fixture on late-night television, first with
Doc Severinsen’s house band on the Tonight
Show starring Johnny Carson, and later as
part of the Posse on the Arsenio Hall Show.
Williams recently released his second solo
CD, Arabesque, and he’s currently prepping
Notes on Life (Played in the Key of Love), a
collaboration with his wife Jessica for release
on his own imprint, JBW Entertainment.
Arabesque has a strong Caribbean influence.
When I write original music, I mostly hear
calypso, samba, bossa nova, cha-cha-chá,
and reggae. I hear them more naturally than
I hear bebop or jazz. It’s where my heart is.
Where does that influence come from?
It’s always been a part of me—my father
was from the Caribbean, and I played
calypso long before I played jazz. It has a
very joyous, celebratory kind of feel; it’s
colorful and uplifting. I like to see people
dancing and having a good time. I don’t
like to inundate them with intellectual jazz.
What do you mean by that?
Whereas somebody who doesn’t know much
about jazz can appreciate Kenny G or George
Benson, intellectual jazz is for aficionados. I
wanted to do something with Arabesque that
was more far-reaching than straight-ahead
jazz—something that would celebrate my roots.
There also seems to be a classical influence
on this album. Would you say that’s true?
Absolutely. When I was a kid, my sister
June convinced my mother to get me off the
street by going to ballet classes. It screwed up
my macho image, but I loved it. As a benefit,
I saw Stravinsky’s Petrushka and was blown
away. The music really grabbed me. As I got
older I started listening to Stan Kenton and
Johnny Richards, and the avant-garde sounds
of Charles Ives and Béla Bartók.
That really opened my mind.
Did studying upright bass
influence that classical aspect
of your playing?
Yes, it did. I studied classical
bass with Ron Carter for almost three years.
He wouldn’t let me play any pizzicato—it
had to be all arco.
Why was that?
Intonation. On the upright bass, the best
way to develop outstanding intonation is
to bow; the bow tells the truth. My first
professional gig after studying with Ron was
with Horace Silver, who was a stickler for
intonation. I had to double his left hand on
the piano in a lot of songs, and he would
call me on it if I were off.
To what do you
attribute such a long,
successful, and diverse
I chose a style that
really suited me, which
was to groove. I grew
up listening to Ron
Carter, Paul Chambers,
Milt Hinton, and Jimmy
got up under the band.
Doc Severinsen used to
say, “The band is only as
good as the bass upon
which it rests.” I had to
play electric bass exclusively
with Doc, and my
tendency was to play a lot
of notes; I had to learn
how to lay down in the
basement. Eventually I
got so comfortable down
there that I found it was
more fun creating great
bass lines that would
make the band sound a
certain way. Rather than
play a lot of fancy, technical
stuff, I chose to be a
good bottom player. That
has carried me through
a wonderful career that
I’m still enjoying today.
HEAR HIM ON
John B. Williams,
Arabesque [Alessa, 2011]
Basses Warwick Streamer Stage II
4-string, Warwick Dolphin 5-string,
Warwick Infinity 4- and 5-strings, fretless
Warwick Thumb 4-string, Warwick
Triumph 4-string electric upright,
fretless Warwick Alien 5-string, u-size
German-made Goetz upright, esize
Chinese-made Charles W. Liu
Rig Warwick Hellborg System
(Preamp, Stereo 250 power amp,
Lo Cab 1x15, and Club Cab 1x15)
Strings, etc. La Bella strings,
Fishman Pro EQ Preamp/DI,