Lawrence Williams Speaks!

Lawrence Williams was one of the greatest men I have ever had the privilege of knowing. He was a master drummer, composer, artist and most of all, a spiritual giant. When he played the drums he always beat them to a pulp, putting everything he had into the music.

Lawrence lived for Jazz. He thought about Jazz 24 hours a day; composing, listening, playing, or planning his next project. His motives were always to keep his music on the highest plane possible so that others would feel uplifted when they heard it. Because Lawrence was so dedicated to his music for fifty years he was able to leave behind a huge body of work when he passed. He wrote enough tunes to fill four Real Books.

Near the end of his life he started working with pastels when he became too sick too play the drums. He even had an art show at an art gallery where Geri Allen, Kenny Garrett, and Marcus Belgrave played his music.

Several years ago I took cameraman Will Brown with me to Lawrence's small studio apartment
in southwest Portland. I interviewed Lawrence for a few hours, but he was feeling pretty weak and was having a hard time staying focused. We decided to break for lunch and went to the Oyster House for lunch. There Lawrence threw down a huge plate of raw Oysters. When we got back and started shooting again Lawrence was on FIRE, he was amazing.

I've posted a short clip from that interview before, but yesterday I edited all of that footage and came up with forty minutes of material. In those forty minutes Lawrence sums up just about everything that I've been trying communicate with this Blog for three years.

In an All About Jazz interview Jeff Watts talked about the method that Lawrence used to compose some of his music:
  • AAJ: How do you compose as a drummer? Is it a little different approach when you sit down to write?

    JW: Pretty typically. There's a drummer in Detroit named Lawrence Williams, who's a great composer. Some of his music is featured on albums by, like, Geri Allen and Marcus Bellgrave and people like that. One device that people from Detroit told me that he used was that he would, before even thinking melodically, he would write out a whole rhythmic idea. A whole thing that made complete musical sense, but only using rhythm. Then he would assign notes to it. That's something I tried on a couple of the tracks. Composition is still pretty new to me, so I'm just trying whatever it takes. But most of the time I have an idea and I'll sing it. And then whenever it starts to make a certain amount of sense, I'll go to the piano. And then the song will kind of unfold.
Mr. Williams is arguably the greatest Jazz composer and drummer Portland has ever seen. He spent many years in Portland, before moving back to Detroit shortly before his passing. In his later years health problems prevented him from playing drums, though he always kept up his prodigious output of compositions. He has a unique style that has influenced a generations of Jazz musicians. Players such as Nancy King, Geri Allen, Marcus Belgrave, Regina Carter, Marvin 'Smitty' Smith, Kenny Garrett, David Valdez, Dan Gaynor, Cheryl Alex and Steve Christopherson have been mentored by him. His compositions have been recorded by local artist Nancy King, Blue Note recording artist Geri Allen and by the Dutch Metropole Orchestra. Lawrence's compositions are even studied in composition classes at Oberlin Conservatory.

"The presence of Lawrence Williams to the Jazz Development Workshop elevated the creative aspect to the music community that was brewing and burgeoning in the mid-seventies. Lawrence's music was raw, creative and challenging. However, the ingredients that is, the musicians who were involved with Lawrence and myself put their own personal on his compositions. These musicians met every day and became the nucleus of the Jazz Development Workshop. The primary musicians were Geri Allen, Greg Cook, Lamont Hamilton, Dave Mason, Kenny Garrett, and later Bob Hurst. Lawrence took on the creative responsibility along with Geri Allen for creating the extraordinary original compositions that the Detroit Jazz Development Workshop became known for. This workshop became the model for a wave of similar musical conglomerates across the country. His music continues to inspire and utilize their own passions."- Marcus Belgrave

  • "On a more personal note, Lawrence’s music legitimized my musical personality much like Billy Strayhorn did for Duke Ellington.” Marcus Belgrave 2006
Lawrence Williams Speaks!- streaming video
(Windows users make sure you have Quicktime plug-in installed)

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