Jessica Williams

Billy's Theme: A Tribute to Dr. Billy Taylor

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MUSIC REVIEW BY Ric Bang, The Davis Enterprise, September 14, 2006

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Jessica Williams was 4 when she discovered her grandmother's piano.

By age 7, little Jessica was taking formal lessons; she soon was accepted at the prestigious Peabody Conservatory. While still in her teens, she was playing regularly with a jazz combo; by 20 she had moved to California and literally had her pick of the dozens of groups performing there.

She's a great pianist, and she also writes and arranges prolifically. Her discography is enormous: more than 40 CDs on nearly a dozen labels. Two of her albums have been nominated for Grammy Awards, and her other awards are uncountable. Between 1984 and '88, just as an example, she received four grants from the Sacramento Art Commission.

Williams can play any style, and this CD is dedicated to Billy Taylor (guite a pianist in his own right) "for his many years of working miracles for her" and "for his vast contributions to the arts and humanities." Williams wrote every song on this album and performs them as a solo pianist.

She understands the value of a minimalist approach; you won't hear any "gee, how fast can I play?" phrasing... just pnsive and beautiful melodic lines.

"Finally Free" begins as a ballad with a distinctive gospel feel, then switches into quiet double-time blues. Two versions of "Billy's Theme" and included, both played in a concert style: no consistent tempo, just gorgeous melodic lines. They're not repetitious; Part 2 seems to be continuation of Part 1.

"Soul Doctor" is, as advertised, a slow, soulful blues. "Blues for BT" is a swinging, mid-tempo blues that has a great "walking bass" left hand laying down the beat for a rocking right hand. Taylor often played in that style, and I can see his smile now. "Taylor's Triumph" is done as a waltz, with the left hand laying down the three-quarter-time beat, while the right takes care of the melody and frills.

The remaining tracks are two takes of "Spontaneous Composition" and "Improvisation," also done concert-style in variable tempos.

You'll want this CD as a keeper.

Before writing this review, I visited Williams' Web site (www.jessicawilliams.com) where it became evident that - in addition to her composing skills and performing skills - she's also one heck of a businesswoman. This is one of the most complete, best-arranged Web sites I've seen.

One of her statements indicates that she always has planned on, to paraphrase, "getting out of the (often) dingy and sometimes dangerous jazz club environment, and into the realm of the concert halls."

She obviously knows exactly how to accommplish that goal.






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