Joe Williams - vocals; Jimmy Jones - piano; Milt Hinton - bass; Grady Tate - drums; Special guest: Ethel Ennis - vocals
By 1964, Joe Williams was a major star. His mellow baritone voice - so closely associated with the Count Basie Orchestra during the 1950s - was now becoming a bankable commodity in its own right. Having parted with the Basie organization in 1961, he set out on a solo career, signing with RCA in 1962 and cutting a live album at the Newport Jazz Festival the following year with an all-star group that included trumpeters Clark Terry, Thad Jones, and Howard McGhee, saxophonists Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster and Zoot Sims along with pianist Junior Mance, bassist Bob Cranshaw and drummer Mickey Roker. For this Friday evening performance at Freebody Park at the '64 Newport Jazz Festival, Williams fronts a group of veterans featuring the extremely tasty pianist Jimmy Jones and the stalwart rhythm tandem of bassist Milt Hinton and drummer Grady Tate.
They open with the infectious and earthy shuffle "I'm Sticking With You Baby," which contains the hip line: "Like cold is on ice, girl, I'll be with you all the time." Williams then settles into a slow blues, "Me and the Blues," before tackling Nat Adderley's gritty "Work Song," an instrumental hit for the Cannonball Addeley Quintet in 1960. There follows a bluesy medley of Leroy Carr's "In the Evening (When the Sun Goes Down)" and Duke Ellington's "Rocks in my Bed" before turning in a faithful rendition of the jaunty Louis Jordan calypso flavored number "Early in the Morning." He closes his set with the profoundly blue Ray Charles ballad "Come Back Baby," which he reprises from his appearance at Newport the previous year.
A frequent visitor to the Newport Jazz Festival, Williams continued to be a favorite of audiences well into the 1990s. Born in Cordele, Georgia on December 12, 1918, he moved to Chicago with his grandmother at the age of three and reunited with his mother, who taught him to play the piano and also took him to performances of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as well as performances by the bands of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway. He later formed his own gospel vocal quartet, the Jubilee Boys, and by the end of the 1930s began working the Chicago club scene, appearing with orchestras led by Jimmie Noone and Les Hite. By the mid 1940s, he had sung with Coleman Hawkins and Lionel Hampton and also toured with Andy Kirk & His Clouds of Joy while also having a minor hit in 1952 with "Every Day I Have the Blues," which he recorded for the Checker label, a subsidiary of the more famous Chess label. After being hired in 1954 as the male vocalist for the Count Basie Orchestra, replacing the much-beloved blues shouter Jimmy Rushing, Williams was poised on the brink of stardom. His recording debut with the Basie band, 1955's Count Basie Swings, contained definitive versions of "Every Day I Have the Blues" (which hit #2 on the R&B charts) and the lively "Alright, Okay, You Win." His follow up with the group, 1957's The Greatest! Count Basie Swings/Joe Williams Sings Standards, cemented his celebrity status. His solo successes in the '60s included his 1963 debut as a leader on RCA, Jump for Joy, the exhilarating At Newport '63 and 1966's Presenting Joe Williams and the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra.
Williams toured and recorded consistently through the '70s and '80s, then gained greater visibility by landing a recurring role as Heathcliff Huxtable's father-in-law on the popular television series "The Cosby Show." He later recorded for the Verve and Telarc labels during the '90s (including a 1993 reunion with the Count Basie Orchestra under the direction of Frank Foster on Live at Orchestra Hall, Detroit). Williams died at age 80 on March 29, 1999. (Milkowski)