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Anthony Tillmon "Tony" Williams (December 12, 1945 — February 23, 1997) was an Americanmarker jazz drummer.

Widely regarded as one of the most important and influential jazz drummers to come to prominence in the 1960s, Williams first gained fame in the band of trumpeter Miles Davis, and was a pioneer of jazz fusion.


Early life and career

Born in Chicagomarker and growing up in Bostonmarker, Williams began studies with drummer Alan Dawson at an early age and began playing professionally at the age of 13 with saxophonist Sam Rivers. Saxophonist Jackie McLean hired Williams at 16.

With Miles Davis

At 17 Williams found considerable fame with Miles Davis, joining a group that was later dubbed Davis's "Second Great Quintet." Williams was a vital element of the group, called by Davis in his autobiography "the center that the group's sound revolved around". His inventive playing helped redefine the role of jazz rhythm section through the use of polyrhythms and metric modulation (transitioning between mathematically related tempos and/or time signatures).

Williams's 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.

Tony Williams Lifetime

In 1969, he formed a trio, "The Tony Williams Lifetime," with John McLaughlin on guitar, and Larry Young on organ. Jack Bruce on bass was added later. It was a pioneering band of the fusion movement, a combination of rock, R&B, and jazz. Their first album, Emergency!, was largely rejected by the jazz community at the time of its release. Today, Emergency! is considered by many to be a fusion classic.

After McLaughlin's departure, and several more albums, Lifetime disbanded. In 1975, Williams put together a band he called "The New Tony Williams Lifetime," featuring bassist Tony Newton, pianist Alan Pasqua, and English guitarist Allan Holdsworth, which recorded two albums for Columbia Records, Believe It and Million Dollar Legs respectively.


In mid-1976, Williams was a part of a reunion of sorts with his old Miles Davis band compatriots, pianist/keyboardist Herbie Hancock, bassist Ron Carter, and tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter. Miles was in the midst of a six year hiatus and was replaced by Freddie Hubbard. The record was later released as V.S.O.P. ("Very Special OneTime Performance") and was highly instrumental in increasing the popularity of acoustic jazz. The group went on to tour and record for several years, releasing a series of live albums under the name "V.S.O.P." or "The V.S.O.P. Quintet." (The CD reissues of these albums are sold under Herbie Hancock's name - making things a bit confusing since the original V.S.O.P. album, which alone was a Hancock album, is not currently available on CD.)

With the group Fuse One, he released two albums in 1980 and 1982.

Later career

Although not a long lasting project, in 1979, Tony Williams got together once again with guitarist John Mclaughlin, and bassist Jaco Pastorius for a one-time performance at the Havana Jazz Festival. This trio came to be known as the Trio of Doom, and this performance was recorded and recently released. Previously unreleased, this material opens with a powerful drum improvisation by Tony, followed by Mclaughlin's "Dark Prince" and Jaco's "Continuum", Tony's original composition "Para Oriente" and Mclaughlin's "Are you the one?".

In 1985, Williams recorded an album for Blue Note Records entitled Foreign Intrigue, which featured the playing of pianist Mulgrew Miller and trumpeter Wallace Roney. Later that year he formed a quintet with Miller and Roney which also featured tenor and soprano saxophonist Bill Pierce and bassist Charnett Moffett (later Ira Coleman). This band played Williams' compositions almost exclusively (the Lennon/McCartney song "Blackbird", the standard "Poinciana", and the Freddie Hubbard blues "Birdlike" being the exceptions) and toured and recorded throughout the remainder of the 1980s and into the early 1990s. This rhythm section also recorded as a trio.

Williams also played drums for the band Public Image Limited fronted by former Sex Pistols singer John Lydon on their 1986 released album/cassette/compact disc (the album title varied depending on the format). He played on the songs "FFF", "Rise" (a modest hit) and "Home". Bill Laswell (see below) co-wrote those 3 songs with Lydon. Interestingly, the other drummer on that album was Ginger Baker, who played in Cream with Jack Bruce, who was the bass player with the Tony Williams Lifetime.

Williams lived and taught in the San Francisco Bay Areamarker until his death from a heart attack following routine gall bladder surgery. One of his final recordings was Arcana, a release organized by prolific bass guitarist Bill Laswell.

A track on the Miles Davis boxed set The Complete In a Silent Way Sessions (which is also featured on Davis' album Water Babies), "Dual Mr. Anthony Tillmon Williams Process", is named after Williams.


As leader

  • 1964: Life Time (Blue Note)
  • 1965: Spring (Blue Note)
  • 1978: Joy of Flying (Columbia)
  • 1980: Play Or Die (P.S. Productions) - with Tom Grant and Patrick O'Hara

  • 1982: Third Plane (Carrere) - with Ron Carter and Herbie Hancock
  • 1985: Foreign Intrigue (Blue Note)
  • 1986: Civilization (Blue Note)
  • 1988: Angel Street (Blue Note)
  • 1989: Native Heart (Blue Note)
  • 1991: The Story of Neptune (Blue Note)
  • 1992: Tokyo Live (Blue Note)
  • 1993: Unmasked (Atlantic)
  • 1996: Wilderness (Ark 21)
  • 1998: Young at Heart (Columbia)

With Tony Williams Lifetime

  • 1969: Emergency!
  • 1970: Turn It Over
  • 1971: Ego
  • 1972: The Old Bum's Rush
  • 1975: Believe It
  • 1976: Million Dollar Legs

As sideman

With Allan Holdsworth

With Andrew Hill

With Arcana

With Branford Marsalis

With Eric Dolphy

With Jonas Hellborg and the Soldier String Quartet
  • The Word

With Grachan Moncur III
  • Evolution
  • Some Other Stuff

With Herbie Hancock

With Jackie McLean
  • One Step Beyond
  • Vertigo
  • New Wine In Old Bottles

With Kenny Dorham
  • Una Mas (1963)

With McCoy Tyner

With Michel Petrucciani
  • Marvellous (1994)

With Miles Davis

With Public Image Limited

Ray Manzarek, Larry Carlton, Jerry Scheff
  • The Golden Scarab

With Ron Carter
  • Third Plane
  • Etudes

With Sam Rivers
  • Fuchsia Swing Song

With Sonny Rollins

With Stan Getz

With Stanley Clarke

With Travis Shook
  • Travis Shook

With Wayne Shorter

With Weather Report

With Wynton Marsalis
  • Wynton Marsalis

With Jaco Pastorius and John McLaughlin


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