It was the singing of Joe Williams that helped
to launch the Count Basie Band of 1954 to stardom, Bill Basie had
always had a good band, but it was better known to the limited jazz
circle, than the general public. Joe Williams was much more than
a replacement to Jimmy Rushing who had the job with Basie earlier,
he was not only a blues shouter (he was very good at it, but he
was also an excellent ballad singer as well). Joe had an enormous
stage presence; a huge deep warm voice and he could create excitement
at the drop of a hat.
The first six tracks demonstrate these facets of
his work with the excellent Basie bands of ‘54 to ‘56 in support.
Ernie Wilkins was the arranger for tracks 1 to 4 and Buddy Bregman
on 5, 6 and 8.
Track 7 Party Blues, pairs Joe Williams with Ella
Fitzgerald and a very tight sounding Basie Octet. You can feel how
much everyone enjoyed doing this one, with both singers ‘scatting’
in great style and a really good ensemble sound. Roll ‘Em Pete is
back to the blues, Joe Williams could have been a great singer just
doing the blues!
A Man Ain’t Supposed to Cry has Joe with the Jimmy
Munday Orchestra, this was an effort by the singer to launch a more
sophisticated side to his career, he eventually left the Count Basie
Band in 1961 to pursue a solo career. The 1958 Goin’ to Chicago
has the benefit of Lambert Hendricks & Ross in support on this
Basie/Rushing tune. From the same year If I Could be with You and
I Was Telling Her About You have the excellent Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison
on trumpet and Basie on Organ, these tracks were almost a try out
for when he launched his own band in 1961.
The band Joe launched with Edison, Jimmy Forrest
on Tenor and Sir Charles Thompson on piano are heard on Alone Together.
The arrangement by Ernie Wilkins is superb and it is very well played
by the band. Until I Met You turns out to be a vocal version of
the Basie favourite Corner Pocket.
The next track comes from an album Joe made with
the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Band in 1966. Several members of the band
were ex-Basie at that time, including co-leader Thad Jones. I found
this track a bit disappointing; it never seems to get off the ground.
Tracks 16,17 and 18 feature Joe in 1987 with a small group consisting
of Norman Simmons-piano, Henry Johnson-guitar, Bob Badgley-bass
and Gerryck King-drums. These are taken from a live session and
once again Joe is at his best, swinging as only he could. The last
track is just Joe with Ellis Larkins on Piano from 1990 singing
the little heard Frank Loesser song What Are You Doing New Year’s
Eve. The warmth and roundness of Joe’s voice are still in evidence
and when you consider he was over 70 at the time, these are remarkable
performances. They were the however last he made, Joe died in March
1999. He was still working right up to the end. In fact he had a
visit planned to visit Ronnie Scott’s in Birmingham that year which
I had planned to go to. He never made it, but I am awfully glad
that I saw him live with the Basie Band on a number of occasions.
He was an awesome performer!