Born in Chicago and growing up in Boston, Williams began studies with master drummer Alan Dawson at an early age and began playing professionally at the age of 13 with saxophonist Sam Rivers. Jackie McLean hired Williams at 16. At 17 Williams found considerable fame with Miles Davis, joining a group that was later dubbed Davis's Second Great Quintet. His first album as a leader, 1964's Life Time (not to be confused with the name of his band Lifetime, which he formed several years later) was recorded during his tenure with Davis.
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