Claude Williams (musician)
Williams was born in Muskogee, Oklahoma, in 1908, and by 10 he had learned to play guitar, mandolin, banjo and cello. Upon hearing Joe Venuti play, he was inspired to take up the violin. In 1928, he moved to Kansas City and toured with Andy Kirk's territory band Twelve Clouds of Joy, which also included Mary Lou Williams, and further honed his musicianship by participating in jam sessions. Count Basie discovered him in Kansas City and later invited him to play rhythm guitar in his band. From the late 1960s, he often played with fellow Kansas City resident Jay McShann. From the 1980s, Williams performed on violin exclusively.
In 1997, Claude Williams was inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame.
He died of pneumonia in Kansas City at age 96. He was the last surviving jazz musician to have recorded before 1930.
Jazz legend Claude “Fiddler” Williams, who for more than eight decades, contributed to and influenced the rich and broad landscape of jazz in America and beyond, joined the Count Basie Band in 1936 as a guitar player and was recognized by Downbeat Magazine’s readers’ poll as “Guitarist of the Year.”
He returned to the violin and to Kansas City where he formed his own group. In addition to his long collaboration with Kansas City’s master jazz pianist Jay McShann, Mr. Williams also played with the Pettiford Band, Buddy Tate, Don Byas and Lloyd Glenn.
In 1986, when improvising violinist Julie Lyonn Lieberman produced her Second American Jazz String Summit at St. Peter's Church, she flew Mr. Williams to New York City to perform as a soloist with his own trio. Numerous jazz violinists in the audience and included in the program, such as John Blake, Jr. and Matt Glaser, had either never heard of him or had never heard him play live. He received a standing ovation, and the loyal support of his fellow violinists, leading to invitations to CBS Sunday Morning News, Mark O'Connor's Fiddle Camp, and Berklee College of Music.
In 1989, Broadway called, and Claude Williams was tapped to perform in the hit show, “Black and Blue” which starred Ruth Brown, He joined an all-star orchestra that included Leonard Oxley, Sir Roland Hanna, Virgil Jones and Grady Tate.
In 1988, 1993 and 1995, he headlined the Masters of the Folk Violin tour of 23 cities, leading a troupe that included bluegrass great Kenny Baker, Cajun fiddler Michael Doucet and Cape Breton stylist Natalie MacMaster.
He performed at the White House a number of times, most recently in 1998, when he, Bucky Pizzarelli and Keter Betts played in a performance featuring dancers Savion Glover and Jimmy Slyde. That same year, he received the prestigious National Heritage Fellowship Award from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Claude Williams is a member of the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame and the recipient of a Charlie Christian Jazz Award from Black Liberated Arts, Inc.
He appeared on many recordings through the years. On his recordings with Andy Kirk and Mary Lou Williams he generally played violin. On his recordings with Count Basie or Basie alumni he tended to play guitar instead. His most recent recordings under his own name include Claude Williams Live at J’s, Volumes I and II, Swing Time in New York, American Federation of Jazz Society’s Statesmen of Jazz and Claude “Fiddler” Williams, Swingin’ the Blues.. In 1980 he also recorded the album Kansas City Giants for Birmingham, England's Big Bear Records.
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With Count Basie
- The Original American Decca Recordings (GRP, 1937-39 )
- Call for the Fiddler (SteepleChase, 1976)
- Swingtime in New York (PCD 7093 )
- [dead link]
- "Claude 'Fiddler' Williams: 1908-2004". Jazzhouse.org. Retrieved 2010-09-28.
- "Widow of 'Fiddler' Williams pleased UMKC took such care of his memorabilia". KansasCity.com. 2004-04-25. Retrieved 2010-09-28.