The Music of Lawrence Williams

Lawrence Williams was an important leader on the Detroit scene for many years. He was a prolific composer, a drummer, an educator, and a long time collaborator with trumpeter Marcus Belgrave. Mentor to trumpeters Greg Glassman and Sean Jones, Belgrave himself agreed to come to New York for the Fourth Annual Festival of New Trumpet Music, to play the unfairly overlooked music of Lawrence Williams.

And that’s why I’m writing about Williams right now. I wasn’t familiar with him, but it’s worth getting enlightened. His work is not easy to find, but I picked up a record from Mr. Belgrave called Working Together, recorded and released by the Detroit Jazz Musicians Co-op. There are other recordings worth hunting down. Also, Mr. Belgrave has a book of sheet music with all the Lawrence Williams tunes. I’m going to try to get my hands on that because they are fun and tricky and beautiful things, each of them. Tricky in that kind of Herbie Nichols, Charles Tolliver, Andrew Hill way. Maybe Destination Out will come through with some rare vinyl on this collaboration.

Marcus Belgrave is a trip to watch: his sound comes from many directions at once. Just when you think he might be tiring in a phrase or solo, he suddenly pulls a high note out of left field, strong and clear. He’ll pop an entire phrase up an octave when you least expect it. But he also plays the smoothest, most soulful lines that only come from hard-earned experience. A minor bit of shop-talk: trumpeters who watch him get messed up because what he’s doing with his fingers never seems to make any sense with what he’s playing. The sound, however, makes all the sense in the world.

Greg Glassman hits it solid, with a lot of heart. Right on the money with every phrase, swinging with a clear tone. He is also a great arranger, and the three trumpets sounded rich together. Greg plays with John Esposito, an old friend of mine and the first person, along with Jeff Marx and Jeff Siegel, to hire me for a record date. 1986.

Sean Jones is a real find. This guy plays so much trumpet it’s ridiculous. And yet he turns it all into music: no showboating, no licks, no firebreathing for its own sake. Just straight passion and expressiveness. I had to move closer to the stage to see how he was doing it. Go see him live if you can.

And even closer to the stage, but my camera chops are still sad. So, alas, no pictures…