David Williams' route to the top of the jazz world has been somewhat unconventional: it has taken him from Trinidad to London to New York to Washington, DC to Los Angeles and back to New York. But there is nothing conventional about brilliance, and as a bassist, that is what David Williams exemplifies. His sound is deep and resonant, his section playing seems effortless, his solos are rhythmic and compelling, and his intonation is flawless.
David was born in Trinidad; the island's rich musical heritage was made available to him in an invaluable way --- his father, John "Buddy" Williams, was a highly‑regarded bassist who led his own calypso band. David, meanwhile, went from piano at age 5 to violin at 6 and wasn't fond of either instrument. Although his father did not give him lessons, David watched closely and experimented with the bass on his own. He was also intrigued by the steel pans, and loved to play them. He started to play bass in earnest at age 12. When his sister was awarded a scholarship to study piano in London, David joined her, and studied bass at the London College of Music for a year.
David came to New York for a visit in 1969, and happened upon a workshop run by Beaver Harris, Grachan Moncour and Roland Alexander. When Jimmy Garrison didn't show, David sat in. One night Ron Carter came by and instead of reclaiming the gig, brought in his cello and encouraged David to keep playing. On a tip from Ron, David secured the bass spot with Gap and Chuck Mangione, and when he tired of that, followed another Carter lead to Washington, D.C. and promptly became Roberta Flack's bass player. The alliance lasted for two years, during which time David also worked with Donny Hathaway.
When he returned to New York, David was called to work in a number of situations: The Voices of East Harlem, Donald Byrd & the Blackbyrds (with whom David received his first gold record), a Brazilian gig at the Tin Palace led by Charlie Rouse. During this time he met Cedar Walton and his bassist Sam Jones; David subbed for Sam once or twice. George Coleman, Roy Haynes, Billy Taylor and Junior Cook were among the musicians who hired David; he also played regularly with Ornette Coleman before signing on with Elvin Jones for a twoyear stint.
In 1976, David moved to LA and got caught up in the studio whirlwind, appearing on about 20 AVI releases with disco, funk, fusion and pop groups. He played mostly Fender bass with artists including Herb Alpert and Hugh Masekela, David Benoit, Jermaine Jackson, Tuxedo Junction, John Klemmer, even Liberace. The disco hit "Le Spank" garnered him another gold record during this period. Soul is Free, his first album as a leader, was released on AVI in 1979; one of David's compositions from it was used in the Eddie Murphy film "Trading Places." In 1982, after two years of work with Art Pepper, David returned to New York.
Shortly afterwards, Sam Jones died, and David inherited a legendary spot. As a member of the Cedar Walton Trio (along with Billy Higgins) and Eastern Rebellion, wherein the trio is fronted by a saxophonist (presently Vincent Herring), David has found his first‑call tour of duty. This is not to suggest that he has been unavailable to others: he's worked with Woody Shaw, Bobby Hutcherson, Stan Getz, Kenny Barron, Monty Alexander, Frank Morgan, Hank Jones, Charles McPherson, Larry Willis, George Cables, Abdullah Ibrahim, David "Fathead" Newman, Sonny Fortune, John Hicks, Ronnie Matthews, Louis Hayes, Jackie McClean, Clifford Jordan, Abbey Lincoln, Ernestine Anderson, and Kathleen Battle. Along with Cedar Walton, many of these long‑lived associations --- Barron, Willis, Fortune and George Coleman, to name a few --- are ongoing.
David was the leader on Up Front, which he recorded with Walton and Higgins on the Timeless label in 1987. He has made numerous TV appearances: the Today Show, Johnny Carson and Dick Cavett among them. His travels have taken him across most of the world. His discography includes approximately two hundred albums. David Williams' prodigious talent is amplified by the fact that he never stops listening to what his band mates are doing, and he responds unselfishly. He is inarguably one of the finest and most sought‑after bassists in jazz today.
In other ways, things have come full circle, so to speak, for David Williams. Over the past four years, he has explored and developed the musical legacy bequeathed him by his father, John Buddy Williams. In 2000, moved by the spirit of Calypso, he threw his hat into the competitive ring of composers writing especially for Trinidad’s steelbands at Carnival time, ending up high among the twelve finalists. His composition, Happy’s Story, the narrative tale of his own childhood and relationship to the novel instrument called ‘pan’, caused quite a stir on the island, and was billed locally as a sort of “jazzman’s homecoming”. This was followed by another hit calypso CD in 2001, Ping Pong Obsession.
In 2002, David established a firm reputation in this arena by writing and performing a rhythmic ‘jam’ called The Prize, which took him to fourth place in a field of some sixty-odd composers. Several steelbands played diverse arrangements of his music.
David Williams The Jazzman and David ‘Happy’ Williams, calypso writer/singer/performer, are one and the same, a musician fortunate enough to be able to explore the fullness of his art, from many sides- the inherited, the discovered and rediscovered. Listen, as he continues to find new ways to merge. John Buddy would be proud.