John Williams (guitarist)

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John Williams
Williams in concert in Cordoba, 1986
Background information
Born (1941-04-24) 24 April 1941 (age 74)
Melbourne, Australia
Genres Classical music, progressive rock
Occupation(s) Guitarist, arranger and composer
Instruments Guitar
Years active 1958 – present
Labels Sony Records
Associated acts Sky
Notable instruments
Smallman guitar, Ignacio Fleta, Hernandez y Aguado, Gibson Les Paul

John Christopher Williams (born 24 April 1941) is an Australian-born British classical guitarist renowned for his ensemble playing as well as his interpretation and promotion of the modern classical guitar repertoire. In 1973, he shared a Grammy Award in the Best Chamber Music Performance category with fellow guitarist Julian Bream for Julian and John (Works by Lawes, Carulli, Albéniz, Granados).[1] Williams is noted for a technique that is often described as virtually flawless. Guitar historian Graham Wade has said: "John is perhaps the most technically accomplished guitarist the world has seen."[2]


John Williams was born on 24 April 1941 in Melbourne, Australia, to an English father, Len Williams, who later founded the London Guitar School, and Malaan (née Ah Ket), a daughter of Melbourne barrister William Ah Ket. In 1952, the family moved to England where he attended Friern Barnet Grammar School, London.[3] Williams was initially taught guitar by his father, who was an accomplished guitarist.[4] From the age of 11, Williams attended summer courses with Andrés Segovia at the Accademia Musicale Chigiana in Siena, Italy. Later, he attended the Royal College of Music in London, from 1956 to 1959, studying piano because the college did not have a guitar department at the time. Upon graduation, he was offered the opportunity to create such a department. He took the opportunity and ran the department for its first two years. Williams has maintained links with the college (and with the Royal Northern College of Music[5] in Manchester) ever since.

Classical guitarist[edit]

Williams' first professional performance was at the Wigmore Hall in London on 6 November 1958. Since then, he has been performing throughout the world and has made regular appearances on radio and TV. He has extended the repertoire by commissioning guitar concertos from composers such as Stephen Dodgson, André Previn, Patrick Gowers, Richard Harvey and Steve Gray. Williams has recorded albums of duets with fellow guitarists Julian Bream and Paco Peña.

Williams is a visiting professor and honorary member of the Royal Academy of Music[6] in London.

Williams mostly uses Greg Smallman guitars, after using Spanish Fleta during the 1970s.[7] He also plays a guitar by Paulino Bernabe II.[8]

Thoughts on guitar education and teaching[edit]

Williams has expressed his frustration and concern with guitar education and teaching,[9] if it is too one-sided, e.g. focusing only on solo playing, instead of giving guitar students a better education including ensemble playing, sight-reading and a focus on phrasing and tone production and variation. Williams notes that "students [are] preoccupied with fingerings and not notes, much less sounds"; some are able "to play [...] difficult solo works from memory", but "have a very poor sense of ensemble [playing] or timing". He notes that students play works from the solo repertoire that are often too difficult, so that the teachers often put more "emphasis [...] on getting through the notes rather than playing the real substance of each note". To encourage phrasing, tone production and all-around musicianship, Williams arranges for students to play together in ensembles, choosing works from the existing classical music repertoire, such as the "easier Haydn String Quartets".

Other musical genres[edit]

Although Williams is best known as a classical guitarist, he has explored many different musical genres. Between 1978 and 1984 he was a member of the fusion group Sky. He is also a composer and arranger. At the invitation of producer Martin Lewis he created a highly acclaimed classical-rock fusion duet with celebrated rock guitarist Pete Townshend of The Who on Townshend's anthemic "Won't Get Fooled Again" for the 1979 Amnesty International benefit show The Secret Policeman's Ball. The duet featured on the resulting album and the film version of the show – bringing Williams to the broader attention of the rock audience.

Williams recorded "Cavatina" by Stanley Myers. The piece originally included only the first few measures but, at Williams' request, it was rewritten for guitar and expanded by Myers. After this transformation it was used for a film, The Walking Stick (1970). In 1973, Cleo Laine wrote lyrics and recorded it as the song "He Was Beautiful" accompanied by Williams. The guitar version became a worldwide hit single when it was used as the theme tune to the Oscar-winning film The Deer Hunter (1978).

Personal life[edit]

Williams and his third wife, Kathy, reside in London and Australia. He has a daughter Kate, now an established jazz pianist,[10] from his first marriage (to Lindy); and a son, Charlie Williams, from his second marriage (to broadcaster Sue Cook).


In the following list, compilations or re-editions are denoted by (C) after the album title.


  • 1958 Guitar Recital Volumes 1 & 2 (Delysé)


  • 1961 Folk Songs (with Wilfred Brown: tenor) (L'Oiseau-Lyre)
  • 1961 A Spanish Guitar (Westminster)
  • 1963 Twenty Studies for Guitar (Westminster)
  • 1963 Jacqueline du Pré: Recital (EMI)
  • 1964 CBS [Columbia] Records Presents John Williams (CBS)
  • 1965 Virtuoso Music For Guitar (CBS)
  • 1965 Two Guitar Concertos (Rodrigo and Castelnuovo-Tedesco) (CBS)
  • 1967 More Virtuoso Music for Guitar (CBS)
  • 1968 Two Guitar Concertos (Rodrigo and Dodgson) (CBS)
  • 1968 Haydn and Paganini (CBS)
  • 1969 Virtuoso Variations for Guitar (CBS)
  • 1969 Concertos by Vivaldi and Giuliani (CBS)
  • 1969 Songs for Voice and Guitar (CBS)


  • 1970 John Williams Plays Spanish Music (CBS)
  • 1970 Webern: Complete Works (CBS/Philips)
  • 1971 Songs of FreedomTheodorakis with Maria Farantouri (CBS)
  • 1971 The Raging Moon (EMI)
  • 1971 200 Motels (United Artists)
  • 1971 Changes (Cube Records, Fly Records in the UK)
  • 1971 Music for Guitar and Harpsichord (CBS)
  • 1971 Cavatina (C) (Cube Records)
  • 1972 Guitar Recital (I & II) (C) (Ace of Diamonds)
  • 1972 Together (a.k.a. Julian and John) (with Julian Bream) (RCA)
  • 1972 Gowers Chamber Concerto, Scarlatti Sonatas (CBS)
  • 1972 Previn and Ponce Concertos (CBS)
  • 1972 Greatest Hits-The Guitar (C) (Columbia)
  • 1972 John Williams Plays More Spanish Music and Other Favourites (C) (CBS)
  • 1973 Music from England, Japan, Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina and Mexico (CBS)
  • 1973 The Height Below (Cube Records)
  • 1974 Rhapsody (CBS)
  • 1974 Together Again (a.k.a. Julian and John 2) (with Julian Bream) (RCA)
  • 1974 Rodrigo & Villa-Lobos (CBS)
  • 1974 John Williams' Greatest Hits (C) (CBS)
  • 1974 Schoenberg: Complete Works for Chamber Ensemble (Decca)
  • 1975 Bach: Complete Lute Music (CBS)
  • 1976 Best Friends (with Cleo Laine)(RCA)
  • 1976 Duos (CBS)
  • 1976 John Williams and Friends (CBS)
  • 1976 Villa-Lobos and Scarlatti (C) (CBS)
  • 1977 The Sly Cormorant Argo (Decca)
  • 1977 John Williams Plays Patrick Gowers (C) (CBS)
  • 1977 Duos by Paganini and Giuliani (CBS) (with Itzhak Perlman, violin)
  • 1977 John Williams plays Spanish Favourites (C) (Decca)
  • 1977 John Williams plays Bach and Scarlatti (C) (Decca)
  • 1977 Guitar Recital (Double LP) (C) (Decca)
  • 1977 Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Arnold and Dodgson Concertos (CBS)
  • 1977 John Williams ~ Barrios (CBS)
  • 1977 Mermaid Frolics (Polydor)
  • 1978 Malcolm Arnold and Leo Brouwer Concertos (CBS)
  • 1978 Stevie (CBS)
  • 1978 John Williams Plays Paganini (C) (CBS)
  • 1978 John Williams Collection (C) (CBS)
  • 1978 Travelling (Cube Records)
  • 1978 Manuel Ponce (CBS)
  • 1979 John Williams plays Stephen Dodgson (C) (CBS)
  • 1979 Julian Bream & John Williams Live (RCA)
  • 1979 Recollections (C) (CBS)
  • 1979 Sky (Ariola)
  • 1979 The Secret Policeman's Ball (Island). Various artists; Williams featured on track "Cavatina"
  • 1979 The Deer Hunter (Capitol)
  • 1979 John Williams at His Best (C) (Neon)
  • 1979 Morning Sky (C) (Cube Records)
  • 1979 Bridges (C) (Lotus Music/K-Tel)
  • 1979 Spotlight on John Williams (2LP) (C) (Cube Records)


  • 1980 The Monster Club (soundtrack)
  • 1980 Guitar Quintets (CBS)
  • 1980 The Platinum Collection (2LP) (C) (Cube Records)
  • 1980 The Guitar Music of John Williams (C) (Tellydisc)
  • 1980 Sky 2 (Ariola)
  • 1981 Great Performances: Rodrigo (C) (CBS)
  • 1981 Echoes of Spain – Albeniz (CBS)
  • 1981 Sky 3 (Ariola)
  • 1982 John Williams and Peter Hurford Play Bach (CBS)
  • 1982 Sky Forthcoming (Ariola)
  • 1982 Just Guitars: A Concert in Aid of The Samaritans (CBS)
  • 1982 Portrait of John Williams (CBS/Sony)
  • 1983 Sky Five Live (Ariola)
  • 1983 The Honorary Consul Island (single)
  • 1983 Let The Music Take You (CBS/QNote)
  • 1983 The Guitar is the Song: A Folksong Collectio (CBS/Sony)
  • 1983 Cadmium ... (Ariola)
  • 1984 Rodrigo (CBS)
  • 1985 Bach, Handel, Marcello: Concertos (CBS/Sony)
  • 1985 Hounds of Love (EMI Manhattan)
  • 1986 Echoes of London (CBS)
  • 1986 Classic Aid: Concert in Aid of The UNHCR (CBS)
  • 1986 The Essential Collection (C) (Castle)
  • 1986 Le Grand Classique (C) (CBS/Guy Laroche)
  • 1987 Emma's War (Filmtrax)
  • 1987 Paul Hart Concerto for Guitar and Jazz Orchestra (CBS/Sony)
  • 1987 Fragments of a Dream CBS/ (Sony)
  • 1987 Unforgettable John Williams (C) (Castle)
  • 1988 A Fish Called Wanda (Milan)
  • 1988 The Baroque Album (CBS/Sony)
  • 1988 John Williams – The Collection (C) (Castle)
  • 1989 Spirit of the Guitar: Music of the Americas (CBS/Sony)
  • 1989 The Great Guitar Concertos (2CD) (C) (CBS)
  • 1989 Spanish Guitar Favourites (C) CBS
  • 1989 Guitar Concertos (2CD) (C) (CBS)
  • 1989 Rodrigo Concertos (C) (CBS)
  • 1989 Rodrigo and Albéniz (C) (CBS)
  • 1989 The Golden Guitar (C) (CBS)


  • 1990 Leyenda (CBS)
  • 1990 Bach: Four Lute Suites (C) (CBS)
  • 1990 Vivaldi Concertos (Sony)
  • 1990 Spanish Guitar Music (C) (Essential Classics)
  • 1991 Guitar Recital (C) (Decca)
  • 1991 Latin American Guitar Music by Barrios and Ponce (C) (Essential Classics)
  • 1991 Rodrigo, Giuliani and Vivaldi (C) (Essential Classics)
  • 1991 The Best of John Williams (C) Music Club
  • 1992 Takemitsu (Sony)
  • 1992 Iberia (Sony)
  • 1993 The Seville Concert (Sony)
  • 1993 Together Again (Expanded Edition on CD) (RCA)
  • 1993 Together (Expanded Edition on CD) (RCA)
  • 1994 From Australia (Sony)
  • 1994 The Great Paraguayan (From The Jungles of Paraguay) (Sony)
  • 1994 Julian Bream and John Williams Ultimate Collection (C) (BMG)
  • 1995 George Martin presents the Medici Quartet (Classic FM)
  • 1996 The Mantis & the Moon (Sony)
  • 1996 Guitar Concertos by Richard Harvey (Concerto Antico) and Steve Gray (Sony)
  • 1996 Dodgson and Rodrigo (C) (Essential Classics)
  • 1996 Paganini, Scarlatti, Giuliani & Villa-Lobos (C) (Essential Classics)
  • 1996 Bach Lute Music: Volume 1 (C) (Essential Classics)
  • 1996 Bach Lute Music: Volume 2 (C) (Essential Classics)
  • 1996 John Williams Plays the Movies (and The World of John Williams) (Sony)
  • 1997 The Black Decameron (Sony)
  • 1997 The Very Best of John Williams (C) (Crimson)
  • 1997 Great Expectations (Atlantic)
  • 1998 In My Life (MCA)
  • 1998 The Guitarist (Sony)
  • 1999 Spanish Guitar Favourites (C) (Decca)
  • 1999 Bach and Scarlatti (C) (Belart)
  • 1999 Guitar Moods (C) (Decca)
  • 1996 Great Performances – Rodrigo (C) (Sony)
  • 1999 Schubert and Giuliani (Sony)
  • 1999 The Prayer Cycle (Sony)
  • 1999 When Night Falls (Sony)
  • 1999 Plague and the Moonflower (Altus)


  • 2000 Classic Williams – Romance of the Guitar (C) (Sony)
  • 2000 The Essential John Williams (C) (Metro)
  • 2000 English Guitar Music (C) (Essential Classics)
  • 2001 The Magic Box (Sony)
  • 2001 John Williams Plays Bach (C) (Sony) "Music For You"
  • 2001 Invocación Y Danza (C) (Sony)
  • 2001 Perpetual Motion (Sony)
  • 2003 The Guitarist (Expanded Edition) (Sony)
  • 2003 The Seville Concert (Expanded Edition) (Sony)
  • 2003 El Diablo Suelto – Guitar Music of Venezuela (with Alfonso Montes) (Sony)
  • 2004 Rosemary and Thyme (Sanctuary Classics)
  • 2004 The Ultimate Guitar Collection (2CD) (C) (Sony)
  • 2005 Bryn Terfel: Simple Gifts (Deutsche Grammophon)
  • 2005 The Essential John Williams (2CD) (C) (Metro)
  • 2005 Testament (BBC/Testament)
  • 2006 Great Performances – Bach Lute Suites (C) (Sony)
  • 2006 John Williams & John Etheridge: Places Between (Sony)
  • 2008 Pure Acoustic (West One Music)
  • 2008 From a Bird (JCW)


  • 2011 The Guitarist (3CD)
  • 2014 Stepping Stones
  • 2014 From a Bird

Awards and recognitions[edit]

Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance

BRIT Award for Best Classical Recording

  • John Williams for Portrait of John Williams (1983)
  • Edison Award lifetime achievement award (2007)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Music World". Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  2. ^ Dalya Alberge, "John Williams says guitar maestro Andrés Segovia bullied students and stifled their creativity", The Observer, 14 October 2012.
  3. ^ The International Who's Who: 1984/85, 2004.
  4. ^ Paul Vernon Chester, Manouche Maestro: "Leonard Williams Guitarist – Journalist – Zoo Keeper and father of John Williams". Retrieved 1 November 2013.
  5. ^ "John Williams, Guitar: Biography 1940s, 1950s, 1960s". Retrieved 10 November 2015. 
  6. ^ "Guitar staff". Royal Academy of Music. Retrieved 11 December 2010. 
  7. ^ Joel McIver, "Classical Mover", Acoustic magazine.
  8. ^ Article about John Williams receiving a guitar by Paulino Bernabe II in 2007 (German).
  9. ^ "John Williams Interview with Austin Prichard-Levy". The Twang Box Dynasty. 
  10. ^ "Homepage". Retrieved 10 November 2015. 

External links[edit]