John B. Williams : Basement Dwelling

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.
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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 career?

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 Blanton—players who 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.

John B. Williams, Arabesque [Alessa, 2011]

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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, Levy’s Straps


Dengue Fever-Senon Williams On Grooving Globally

JUST WHEN YOU THOUGHT YOU’VE heard it all, along comes Dengue Fever. Mixing Cambodian pop—courtesy of singer Chhom Nimol—with surf rock, African funk, and good ol’ American R&B, the band creates a sound that defies categorization. Bassist Senon Williams uses his thumb to thump out the band’s global grooves. See for yourself on the band’s new documentary film, Sleepwalking Through the Mekong.

William Murderface Of Dethklok

You can’t put into words what I do. It’s like asking Robert DeNiro how to act, or why George Burns was a comedy genius. I mean, we’ve just got the goods. There’s no secret formula. And I’m sure all the sad struggling bassists out there will read this hoping for the secret to being an amazing bass player like me, and there isn’t one and then they’ll kill themselves.

John Campbell of Lamb Of God

 Honestly, I never saw the bass and was like, “I’m going to play bass.” I had friends [and] the opportunity to play music came up…they had a house with stuff set up, and I was playing my friend’s drums with his roommates and the bass playin’ roommate took off for the summer. My friends whose drums they were was like, “Hey, why don’t you just let me play my drums and you can play Mike’s bass rig.” And that was when I was 18, and that’s how I ended up playing bass.

Riff Rock Revival : John Paul Jones Takes Flight With Them Crooked Vultures(2)

JOHN PAUL JONES has no need for further feathers in his cap. The bassist, keyboardist, and general rock & roll badass anchored Led Zeppelin—arguably the most influential hard rock outfit in history—and has gone on to collaborate in too many cool projects to mention (for a few, head to When he took the stage at London’s O2 Arena in 2007 with Zeppelin bandmates Jimmy Page and Robert Plant (along with Jason Bonham, son of late, great Zep drummer John Bonham), Jones sealed his reputation as a topnotch performer with deep soul, crisp tone, and killer chops.