Claude Williams, jazz violinist for over 80 years, died April 26, in Kansas
City, Missouri. He was 96. He continued to perform professionally until shortly before
his death. Williams helped solidify the role of the violin in the world of jazz
throughout his long and distinguished career. He introduced jazz fiddling to
generations of players through his innovative playing, his active participation
in fiddle camps and workshops, and his gracious and indomitable spirit.
He began his professional career in 1927 when he moved to Kansas City and played
with a number of bands, including the Twelve Clouds of Joy, the Cole Brothers
(featuring young Nat "King"Cole) and the Alphonso Trent Band. In 1936, playing
guitar and violin, he joined the Count Basie Band and was recognized as
"Guitarist of the Year" in that year’s reader’s poll by Downbeat Magazine. He
left the Basie band in 1937, when John Hammond, who disliked Jazz violin,
convinced Basie to replace Williams.He returned to Kansas City where he formed his own group. In addition to his
long collaboration with Kansas City’s master jazz pianist Jay McShann, Williams
also played with Buddy Tate, Don Byas, and Lloyd Glenn among many others.
Williams was discovered by the folk world through his appearances in the
“Masters of the Folk Violin” tour, produced by the National Council for the
Traditional Arts. Williams shared the stage with other greats such as bluegrass
fiddler Kenny Baker, Cajun fiddler Michael Doucet, and a teenaged fiddle
sensation named Alison Krauss.
He performed at the White House a number of times. In 1998, he received a
National Heritage Fellowship Award from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Williams was a member of the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame and the recipient of a
Charlie Christian Jazz Award from Black Liberated Arts, Inc.
[This obituary is reproduced by courtesy of the
Author: Angel Romero
Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music and progressive music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music and electronic music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World, Lektronic Soundscapes, and Mindchild Records. Angel is currently based in Durham, North Carolina.