[JPL] James Williams, Pianist and Leading Jazz Educator, Dies at 53

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Wed Jul 21 12:11:48 EDT 2004


July 21, 2004

James Williams, Pianist and Leading Jazz Educator, Dies at 53

James Williams, a pianist formerly in Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers and a
leading jazz educator, died yesterday in Manhattan. He was 53 and lived in

The cause was liver cancer, said Jenise Grice, fiancée of the drummer Tony
Reedus, Mr. Williams's nephew.

Mr. Williams was born in Memphis, and he grew up surrounded by musicians
like Harold Mabern, George Coleman and Jamil Nasser. Like them, he used
elements of gospel and blues in his sunny, swinging improvisations. But as a
teacher and producer of jazz, he was also a repository of standards in jazz,
including the more modern ones; he was especially interested in the pianist
Phineas Newborn Jr., who also came from Memphis.

After attending Memphis State University, Mr. Williams moved to Boston,
where he taught at Berklee College of Music from 1972 to 1977; at that time
he worked with groups led by Joe Henderson, Woody Shaw and others. In 1977
he joined the Jazz Messengers, playing over four years and 10 albums and
alongside Wynton Marsalis and Bobby Watson.

In 1984, Mr. Williams moved to New York, where he became a bandleader and
educator as well as a producer of albums and concerts. He formed the
Contemporary Piano Ensemble, a four-pianist group; he also started a band
called Intensive Care Unit, which used a revolving cast of singers and
worked at reconciling gospel with jazz. He formed Finas Sound Productions,
through which he produced many albums and concerts.

He was named director of jazz studies at William Paterson University in
Wayne, N.J., in 1999 and taught until he was hospitalized in April of this

Mr. Williams is survived by two brothers, Hannibal Parkes and Ralph Parkes,
both of Memphis; and a sister, Barbara Williams, also of Memphis.

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