[JPL] Fw: review of Williams/Webster

Tom Reney tr at wfcr.org
Thu Mar 31 11:08:40 EST 2005

I've long prized a Ben Webster LP release on Enja, "Live at Pio's," featuring the same rhythm section of Mance, Cranshaw, and Roker, as is heard on this new release of Joe Williams and Webster together.  Nice to have another volume of Ben from this engagement, and all the more to hear his great rapport with Joe in peak form.
Tom Reney
tr at wfcr.org

Magic moment in Rhode Island jazz history surfaces on

Special to The Providence Journal-Bulletin
Back in the winter of 1963-'64, jazz singer Joe
Williams and his trio were playing a weeklong
engagement at a North Providence lounge called Pio's.
There was a sparse crowd one particular night because
a blizzard had hit town.

Unbeknownst to Williams, tenor saxophone great Ben
Webster happened to be in town for a few days. Webster
was waiting inside Pio's when Williams and the other
musicians arrived at the club that night. Without any
sort of rehearsal or planning, Webster sat in with
Williams -- and perhaps for a night or two after that.

Williams' trio at the time featured pianist Junior
Mance, bassist Bob Cranshaw and drummer Mickey Roker.

"We just walked in; there he was," Mance, now 76,
recalled in a recent phone interview from his home in
New York City. "That's when I met Ben, and got to know
him well over the next few days and nights. It was a
ball. It was evident we were having a great time."

The music they made that first night -- 41 years ago
-- has surfaced on one of this year's surprise jazz CD
releases. Williams' Havin' a Good Time, on veteran New
York jazz producer Joel Dorn's newest label, Hyena, is
startling not only for its superb quality, but for the
fact that it exists at all.

The Webster-Williams crossing of paths in Rhode Island
came three years after Williams had left the swinging
Count Basie Orchestra to go out on his own. And it
came just a few months before Webster would move to
Europe in search of a more comfortable climate in the
twilight of his career.

Webster was one of the giants among the first
generation of jazz saxophonists, along with Coleman
Hawkins and Lester Young. From the 1930s on, he worked
in the Fletcher Henderson and Duke Ellington bands,
and after 1943 he fronted his own small groups and
worked as a freelance soloist.

By the mid-'60s, many major jazz figures were finding
Europe more appealing, as the rock music revolution
put jazz on the ropes in the United States.

Webster died in 1973 and Pio's, the club on
Woonasquatucket Avenue that in the mid-1960s hosted
many nationally known jazz headliners, including
saxophonist Cannonball Adderley and singer Chris
Connor, closed, like so many Rhode Island jazz venues.

After Williams died in 1999, his widow, Jillean
Williams, donated much of his memorabilia to the Jazz
Archive at Hamilton College, in Clinton, N.Y. That
trove included some 90 tapes that Williams had been
given, often of his own performances.

As he reviewed the many tapes, Hamilton's jazz archive
director, Monk Rowe, said the Pio's tape stood out.

"I knew this was a specialty item, and people ought to
hear this," Rowe said. "You can feel like what it felt
like to be in that club that night."

Rowe took several of the tapes to New York City for
Dorn to hear. Dorn said he selected this particular
recording for release because he was a huge fan of
both Webster and Williams.

"When you get world-class musicians together, they are
capable of making magic on the spot," Dorn said.
"That's what appealed to me about this tape. It's the
magic of jazz.

"Ben had performed with Joe at Newport in an all-star
group, and took some isolated solos on a few Joe
Williams recordings. But they never had toured or
appeared together in this sort of setting, before or
since. Joe was at the top of his game and had that
great band. He was out there making his initial

"I have in storage thousands of types like this," Dorn
added. "But there are so many roadblocks to get to
this point. Most of them will never see the light of
day. It is just uneconomical to do it."

So what was Ben Webster doing in Rhode Island that
week in 1964? That part of the puzzle was solved by
Thomas V. di Pietro, a Providence native who is a
retired sound engineer and producer. He ran a New York
rehearsal and recording studio called Upsurge from the
early 1960s through about 1974; he said he has now
lived abroad for more than 25 years, primarily in

"Ben was staying at my house in Providence for a few
days when I came up to visit my sister," di Pietro,
81, said by telephone. "We went to hear Joe -- and Ben
brought his horn. He sat in for a couple of nights. He
wasn't paid for it.

"I had a cheap tape recorder and some mikes with me.
The tape was a thing for us, for the guys.

"I gave a copy to Ben and to Joe. I must have given my
own copy away to a friend. I don't have it anymore."

Joe Williams featuring Ben Webster

Havin' a Good Time (Hyena)

This CD is wonderful for the mere fact that it exists,
but it is extraordinary because it captures the warmth
and energy only found in the intimacy of a live club
performance -- on those rare dates when all of the
musicians and the audience are truly in sync.

Webster sat in with the band on 10 of the 12 tunes
that night, most of which were popular standards out
of Williams' touring repertoire. They include "Just a
Sittin' and a Rockin,' " "Alone Together," "I'm
Through With Love," "A Hundred Years From Today," Fats
Waller's "Ain't Misbehavin' " and "Honeysuckle Rose"
(the latter gets a rousing arrangement), and the
Williams staple "All Right, OK, You Win."

With a blizzard going on outside, it was a wonder
anyone showed up at all, let alone Webster and
Williams' band. At one point during the evening,
someone asked Williams to sing the classic Bob
Haymes-Alan Brandt pop standard "That's All."

Williams was reluctant, saying he couldn't remember
one verse, but added: "If anybody comes out on a night
like this, and wants to hear something this pretty, we
must try it."

He got it right, nailing the problem lyric. Webster
added a horn solo that showed why he was considered
one of greatest tenor sax balladeers.

As the night ended, Williams thanked the audience and
said: "You may go outside and hitch up your dogsleds

More information about the jazzproglist mailing list