Lawrence Williams and Nancy King

After leaving New York City (ok,ok, Jersey City) in 2000 my wife and I decided to move back to Santa Cruz, California where I grew up. It really seemed like the Garden of Eden after living in the big city but it was not the town that I had grown up in anymore. Santa Cruz had the cost of living and traffic of New York and all the great players that were once there had either moved to NYC or the Bay Area. We were paying New York prices for a beach?! After about four months I arranged some gigs in Portland, Oregon with monster tenor saxophonist Rob Scheps. As soon as drove into town I fell in love with the place. It had beautiful rivers, trees and mountains and a thriving Jazz scene, and it was CHEAP!!!.

One of the first gigs we played was on the coast with vocalist Nancy King, pianist Steve Christopherson, Oregon (the band, not the state) bassist Glen Moore, and drummer Alan Jones. Every one of these players was not just smoking, but truly world class. Nancy King was by far the greatest Jazz singer I had ever heard live, and I had played with and heard many of the top singers in the world. Her instrument is incredible, hear ear flawless, she swings her ass off, she can do any tune in any key, and she is one of the greatest scat singer who has ever walked the face of the earth. I am not alone in this assessment of Miss King, her fans include Mark Murphy, Diana Krall, Sheila Jordan, John Hendricks, Kurt Elling, Karin Alyson and Luciana Souza (among many others). She was mainly responsible for talking me into moving up (although it didn't take much convincing) to Portland. Scheps made me promise that if I moved to PDX I wouldn't tell anyone back in NYC how good it really was here,"Just tell them that it rains a lot".Unfortunately Alan Jones has found greener pastures in Bavaria and Scheps is moving back to NYC to seek his fortune.

Nancy has become like a hip grandma to me. We play gigs, go to breakfast and movies and hang quite often. She introduced me to Lawrence Williams who became a very influential mentor to me. Lawrence came up in Detroit where he was trumpet master Marcus Belgrave's drummer and composer for decades. There he became a mentor for players like Kenny Garrett, Regina Carter, and Geri Allen at the acclaimed Detroit Jazz Workshop. Lawrence has a heart of pure gold and a highly developed spiritual philosophy of music. He spent years as a young man living in an ashram in Arizona. Nancy swears up and down that she once walked in on him one day when he was meditating and saw him floating a foot above the floor!

Lawrence reminds everyone around him about the true spiritual nature of music. He lived to play and write music and he played and wrote music to express his love of life and for other people. It was never just about him. He was always grateful for each and every note. Lawrence is one of the baddest drummers AND composers that ever lived in my book. Once in an interview 'Smitty' Smith once said that Lawrence was one his biggest influences. His tunes are even analyzed at Oberlin Conservatory in composition classes. Geri Allen has recorded several LW tunes for the Blue Note label, check out the tune '#3' on her CD 'The Nurturer'. Before moving back to Detroit last year LW let me copy all of his compositions, which ended up equaling about five Real Books! LW lost one of his legs last year due to kidney complications so he hasn't played for a while, but he hasn't lost one bit of his love of music or of life.

So far I have put together two concerts of LW's music. We are planning another one in November. This time we are going to bring out Marcus Belgravefrom Detriot. This show will be at The Blue Note Jazz club here in Portland.

Lawrence picked up drawing when his health problems stopped him from playing and he immediately became a prolific artist. I shot several hours of interviews with him talking about his philosophy of music that I have yet to edit (sooo far behind). He is another true living Jazz master.

  • "In the days before Motown, Detroit produced two great things: flathead V8 engines and a vibrant, revved-up jazz scene that included such giants as Elvin, Thad, and Hank Jones, Kenn Cox, Pepper Adams, Kenny Burrell, Marcus Belgrave, Harold McKinney, and Sheila Jordan to name but a few. Composer-drummer Lawrence Williams is one of the torchbearers of this classic era-as evidenced by his elegant bop-tinged compositions with their shades of blue, and propulsive (yet caressing) Motor City swing." Tim DuRoche

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