Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Buster Williams Quartet

The Buster Williams Quartet was in town for one night, Tuesday, August 11. Although you can't see her, on piano is Patrice Rushen. The others are Buster on acoustic bass, Bennie Maupin on reeds and Cindy Blackman on drums. When I arrived Bennie Maupin was performing a solo on his soprano saxophone, I'd missed the baritone clarinet I decided to stay for the second set. The licorice stick was silent, but I'd heard it Sunday, so I was disappointed but okay.

I'd been reading up on Buster's life...tentatively scheduled interview which I knew wasn't happening as friends and fans lined up to speak to him after his last song. I was seated behind John Handy whom Buster played with. Who hasn't played with the "first call bassist," from age 17 to 20 to now?

Born in Camden, New Jersey, the son of a bassist dad. The eldest of five would practice after school and play for his dad at dinner. Isn't that a great image? His first professional gig was with Jimmy Heath, then Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt just out of high school. A great storyteller, he writes that his parents gave him a bible and told him to always keep enough money to catch a train back home.

He didn't, but it was a nice thought when he was stranded after Gene ran off with the band's money. After studying harmony and theory at Combs College of Music in Philly, Buster was off to Wilmington, Delaware for a gig with the Gerald Price Trio, which led to his first overseas gig with Sarah Vaughn, by way of Betty Carter and Dakota Staton. He was 20, he writes and on the French Rivera in the company of Miles Davis, Ron Carter, Herbie Hancock, George Coleman, and Tony Williams.

As I looked at his discography which printed ran about 5-6 pages, I didn't know he was old enough to have played with Illinois Jacquet. He even played with James Brown, Freddie Hubbard, Art Blakey, Art Farmer, Frank Morgan, Carmen McCrae, Dexter Gordon, Chico Freeman, Chick Corea, Cecil Payne, Hank Jones, Herbie Hancock, Houston Pearson, Hilton Ruiz, Mary Lou Williams, Kenny Barron, Jimmy Smith, Shirley Horn, Oliver Lake, Nancy Wilson, Ron Carter, Sonny Fortune, Nnenna Freelon, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Norman Connors, Roy Ayers, Woody Shaw, Chet Baker, Terry Lynn Carrington, Cindy Blackman, Bennie Maupin, Steve Turre, Prince Lasha--yes, I should have known when I saw, Sonny Stitt, Sonny Fortune and Sonny Simmons listed.

He's got movie scores, commercials and a Grammy long ago--1980 for his contribution to the album, "Love for Sale"/The Great Jazz Trio with Hank Jones and Tony Williams, he certainly deserves another and a win this time.

When I met Buster he was performing with Spear, a tribute band celebrating the music of Thelonius Spear Monk. The evening repertoire included the famous work, Epistophy, which Buster defined with an example.

"I looked up epistophy. Does anyone know what it means?"

"To go around in circles." One man said.

"Not quite. Take the Declaration of Independence: For the people, by the people, for the people.... That is an epistophy."

Other songs in the second set were from Greek Myth, a concerto blends, and a esoteric piece called the 9th Wave based on a German painting of these guys floating on a few planks on the ocean, a huge wave rising above them. Will they make it?

The 9th Wave, the 9th Ward...9 lives. Buster said this song is for all those people who have lived to tell the story about riding that wave.

The club was full. It's not every day that one sees Buster as a leader, even though he took the plunge with Something More about about 19 years ago. This present band-I don't know if he calls it...Something More Too, features the powerful Cindy, elegant Patrice and fluid Bennie...with Buster holding down the center--like gravity only not as heavy.

Witty, he played "Toku-Do," a tune written for his son. "Yes, I have a son, and my baby's mama is my wife of 44 years. He must have gotten married at 20-something. He left us with the metaphor and the bow was his closing the ensemble walked off stage. I actually stayed for the second set because I wanted to take a photo of their bow.

Maybe next time. Bennie Maupin and Buster will be back soon.


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