One of American culture's well kept secrets, Memphis clarinetist Douglas Williams made a couple of dozen records for the Victor label during the years 1928-1930 and promptly disappeared from the collective radar of jazz for 70 years. In 2000, Jazz Oracle spilled the beans by revealing his existence to the world with a beautifully wrought collection of his complete recorded works. Active as a professional musician before the 1920s, he composed the "Hooking Cow Blues," which was recorded by W.C. Handy's Orchestra of Memphis in 1917. Williams sounded a lot like Johnny Dodds, but specialized in the lower register of the instrument, and composed nearly all of his own material. He recorded as a duo with pianist Edgar Brown and with a trio that gradually expanded into quartets and quintets featuring his brother, Nathaniel Williams, on cornet. A few of his records included vaudeville blues singers Thelma Lee and Alfoncy and Bethenea Harris; four sides also had vocals by his guitarist Melvin "Mel" Parker. In addition to Dodds, Williams can now be considered in the same early clarinet caucus as Bob Fuller, Jimmy O'Bryant, Artie Starks, Fess Williams, and Wilton Crawley, with an inherent dignity that suggests a close affinity with the young Buster Bailey, another fine clarinetist from Memphis.
Share this page