Richard Gene Williams

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Although he never became a "star," Williams was seemingly everywhere during the '60s, performing and recording in a number of high profile situations under such leaders as Charles Mingus, Oliver Nelson,…
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Although he never became a "star," Williams was seemingly everywhere during the '60s, performing and recording in a number of high profile situations under such leaders as Charles Mingus, Oliver Nelson, Grant Green, Lou Donaldson, and Yusef Lateef. Inspired by bop trumpeter Fats Navarro and saxophonist Charlie Parker, Williams began playing tenor sax before switching to trumpet in his teens. During the early '50s he played around his home in Texas and received his degree in music from Wiley College. He served in the air force; upon his discharge in 1956 he toured Europe with Lionel Hampton's band. He returned to the USA and studied further at the Manhattan School of Music in New York, receiving his master's degree in music. He career began to take off in the late '50s and early '60s. When Mingus organized a new band for the 1959 Newport Jazz Festival, he chose Williams. The trumpeter went into the studio with Mingus in November of that year, playing on such classic performances as Gunslinging Bird, Song With Orange, and Farwell's, Mill Valley; he would continue to play with Mingus on-and-off thereafter. In 1960 Williams recorded New Horn in Town under his own name for the Candid label, with a band that included bassist Reggie Workman, alto saxophonist Leo Wright, pianist Richard Wyands, and drummer Bobby Thomas--it turned out to be Williams's only session as a leader. Over the next decade Williams formed many of his most significant musical associations, playing as a sideman on many albums for the Blue Note, Impulse, New Jazz, Riverside, and Atlantic labels, among others. Of particular note is his connection with alto saxophonist Gigi Gryce, with whom he recorded several times during the early '60s. Williams's abilities as a section player landed him big band gigs with Duke Ellington, Gil Evans, Thad Jones-Mel Lewis, among others. He also worked in Broadway pit orchestras. In 1975 he played on the original cast recording for the musical The Wiz; that year he also worked with the pianist Duke Jordan. Williams played in Europe with his own band on occasion during the '70s. Although he was best known as a bop-oriented improviser, Williams played free jazz on at least one occasion, a record date with alto saxophonist Noah Howard in 1977. In 1982 Williams's jazz career came full-circle when he joined the Mingus tribute band, Mingus Dynasty.