Born: January 7, 1956
Steve Williams grew up in Washington, DC. He continued his music education at the University of Miami. There he joined Monty Alexander's band, with whom he started to perform on the international scene. He furthered his music education in New York, with Billy Hart.
Back in Washington, Williams played with Milt Jackson, Freddie Hubbard, Joe Williams, Woodie Shaw, Gary Bartz, Eddie Henderson, John Hicks, Larry Willis, Mulgrew Miller and many others. He joined Gary Thomas' band, with whom he recorded one of his first compositions, Pads.
Then he joined Shirley Horn, who would keep for twenty-five years the same rhythm section: Charles Ables (bass) and Steve Williams (drums)...
AwardsNominated by Willard Jenkins (Downbeat, JazzTimes) for Best Debut Album in the 2007 Jazz Poll Ballots (the Village Voice)
Along its young history , jazz distributed a few titles of nobility: we had a king (Nat “King” Cole), a duke (Duke Ellington) and a count (Count Basie). Not to mention a few dozens of musicians without any title but who could have claimed one. In the aristocracy of jazz, the drummer Steve Williams is, without any doubt, a kind of country squire, a musician without estate, always serving the others. But he acquired his titles of nobility serving the greatest, and in particular the queen Shirley Horn. It is only now that he delivers, at 50, his first record as a leader. And he is not lonely for this first recording session under his name. Some of the greatest American musicians attended; the trumpet Roy Hargrove, the saxophonists Gary Bartz and Antoine Roney, the bassist Michael Bowie. On the piano, it is a French musician, Olivier Hutman, who has to be noticed. The playing and the sound of the trumpet Donvonte McCoy, the less famous of the group, draws attention too.
(…) This record is a splendor. The band sounds and swings wonderfully. It revivals the kind of emotion that you only feel listening to the great sessions from the sixties. And this little “vintage” touch doesn’t mean that the music is old-fashioned. Far from it! The compositions, signed by Steve Williams or other musicians from the band are dazzling («Fulton & Lafayette », « In The Moment», «Late Nite Rap», « Song For The Petty Ones »,« Fluid Exchange », «New Incentive»...). You catch yourself humming them. Let’s thank the small label Elabeth for producing this recording, bursting with blues, which will please music-lovers as well as neophytes. It is one of those that gives the strength to get up in the morning and the will to stretch out the night.
Translated from the review by Renaud Czarnes in Les Echos January 26, 2007
FOR JAZZ LISTENERS who associate drummer Steve Williams exclusively with light-footed swing and brush-stroked finesse the hallmarks of his signature, hand-in-glove collaborations with the late singer and pianist Shirley Horn New Incentive offers a different slant and additional pleasures. Granted, this nine-track collection, with its brassy themes and crisp momentum, doesn't mark a sharp departure for the veteran Washington-bred drummer. Williams's affection for hard bop is a hardly a secret, and he has demonstrated his affinity for the music in various studio and concert settings through the years.
Yet New Incentive has distinct rewards, including four compositions by Williams and welcome cameos by trumpeter Roy Hargrove, alto saxophonist Gary Bartz and the late pianist John Hicks. Hargrove and Bartz help open the album with the hard-charging Fulton & Lafayette, a Williams-penned, Art Blakey-esque fanfare, while Hicks brings a characteristic blend of melodic allure and harmonic invention to the drummer's mid-album reverie Along My Way. The latter tune also provides a splendid showcase for Bartz's lyrical alto and Hargrove's muted horn.
You won't find Williams flashily asserting his role as leader on this session. His solos are compact, his purpose clear. Indeed, the enjoyment he derives from inspiring everyone here, including tenor Antoine Roney, trumpeter Donvonte McCoy, keyboardist Olivier Hutman and bassist Michael Bowie, couldn't be more obvious.
From the review by Mike Joyce in The Washington Post February 23 2007
After a quarter-century as drummer to Shirley Horn, Steve Williams emerges as a leader with a potent modern-bop quintet and some hefty star powerfrom guest soloists Roy Hargrove, Gary Bartz and the late John Hicks. But it's the core band that makes waves. Williams provides expert leadership and driving grooves abetted by rhythmic twists from pianist Olivier Hutman. Meanwhile, trumpeter Donvonte McCoy and tenor saxophonist Antoine Roney spin buoyant lines that feed gracefully into each other and bassist Michael Bowie greases the wheels for fluid motion in this burning debut.
Jazz Times, May 2007
Known mainly to be the accompanist of Shirley Horn for twenty five years and, with her, to play with some of the greatest, from Miles Davis to the Marsalis brothers, Steve Williams signs here his first album as a leader. In a set up typically bop/hard bop, he is surrounded by musicians well accustomed to this musical idiom. So well that the conversation around themes composed by the leader and some of the members of the band occurs very smoothly. But far from any routine. And complicity is obvious between Donvonte McCoy, trumpet to pay attention to, and Antoine Roney, to mention just the two of them. To be convinced about it, just listen to Dom’s song where their respective contribution follows on with an unruffled logic. The drummer, never intruding, shows a joyful drive which doesn’t exclude nor finesse of listening or pertinence of intervention. Regarding the guests, who play on two tunes, they find easily their place in this family reunion, ideal setting for the lyricism of Gary Bartz and the energetic velocity of Roy Hargrove. Just for that merging harmony and for the quality of the soloists, this album, which doesn’t pretend to innovate, has to be recommended.
Translated from the review by Jacques Aboucaya in Jazz Magazine February 2007, N° 578
Superb debut as a leader
For who was for years the subtle and refined accompanist of Shirley Horn. He shows here an other side of his personality, more powerful, close to musicians like Victor Lewis or Billy Hart, who absorbed the heritage of Blakey and Elvin Jones. He comes from Washington (like Horn, Bowie, Roney…) and studied at the University of Miami, where he met Carmen Lundy and Bobby Watson. He pursues his real education in New York in the early eighties, in Art Blakey’s entourage. Besides his collaboration with Shirley Horn he works with Clifford Jordan, Larry Willis, John Hicks or Stanley Cowell. All of this gives a pretty good idea of the setting of his music which sparkles here, with different nuances: the energy of New York with Roy Hargrove (Fulton), the nocturnal and compound poesy of Dom’s song (with a sober Donvonte McCoy), the funk in 5/4 (Late Nite Rap), the diaphanous melody of Along my way with the lyricism of Gary Bartz, the volcanic swing of Song for the Petty ones.
The soloists are perfectly sharpened and the seducing music of Steve Williams doesn’t miss aggressiveness or sensibility. A true musical project, a real personality of instrumentalist and a surrounding in full sympathy with a determined leader: in short, an album of inspired jazz.
Translated from the review by Jean Slamowicz in Jazz Hot February 207 N° 636
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New York, NY
Willing to teach:
Intermediate to advanced students