Based in New York but originally from the Midwest, C.I. Williams is a gifted yet underexposed alto saxophonist who is comfortable in both swing and bop settings. Williams' very attractive tone owes a lot to Johnny Hodges; however, he has also been greatly influenced by Benny Carter and the seminal Charlie "Bird" Parker. Williams grew up in the St. Louis area, where he played in various local bands in the '40s and '50s; the veteran saxman moved to New York in the late '50s and has been based there ever since. Along the way, Williams has toured with some musical heavyweights -- including Clark Terry, Frank Foster, and singer Ruth Brown -- but regrettably, Williams has done very little recording as a leader. In the early '70s, he recorded a few little-known LPs for the Mainstream label; none of them received much attention and all of them went out of print. After that, Williams didn't do any more recording as a leader until 1995. The person who was responsible for his long overdue return to the studio was veteran baritone saxophonist Hamiett Bluiett, who had been a big admirer of Williams' playing since the early '50s (when he saw him performing at a dance in Alton, IL). Bluiett felt it was criminal that someone as talented as Williams had not recorded an album in 25 years, and he managed to convince Mapleshade (a small label based in Upper Marlboro, MD) that releasing a Williams CD would be a good idea. In 1995 and 1996, Bluiett produced When Alto Was King, Williams' first release since the early '70s. Bluiett picked some of the sidemen for that CD, including acoustic bassist Keter Betts and drummer Jimmy Cobb; Larry Willis, who has played on a lot of Mapleshade releases, handled most of the piano solos. Mapleshade released When Alto Was King in August 1997.
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