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Al Williams: Bio

Al Williams III - Biography

Heart Song is the latest offering from the incomparable sax and flute man, Al Williams III. With a depth of tone and a freshness of sound that comes from years of playing with greats like Stanley Clarke and Mongo Santamaria, Al has earned rave reviews from critics and audiences alike, with JazzTimes noting the “poetic beauty” of his solos. In spring of 2008, Al signed with the Pacific Coast Jazz record label for the distribution and promotions of Heart Song.

A native of Philadelphia, Al has toured and recorded five albums with Cuban percussionist Mongo Santamaria and appears on Mongo’s Grammy Award winning album “Amanacer.” Al then joined high school and college buddies as an original member of Stanley Clarke’s School Days Band, recording three groundbreaking albums, “Modern Man,” “I Want to Play for You,” and “Stanley Clarke Live, '76, '77.”

Career highlights include making a movie soundtrack with guitarist Nils Lofgren and recording a one-hour concert on BET as a member of guitarist Grant Geisman’s band. Al has appeared at many jazz festivals around the world, most recently the International Jazz Festival in Fez, Morocco, and The Jazz Jam in Nashville, TN.

Al has three recordings under his own name, Never Too Late (1997), See for Yourself (2003), and his brand new release, Heart Song (2008).

Produced by the stellar musician John Stoddart, Heart Song contains eleven tracks of groovin’, soulful sax and flute propelled by the finest rhythm section players in the business. Guest stars include Spyro Gyra’s Scott Ambush (bass), and Tom Shuman (keys), who appear on the radio friendly "Skyline Drive," a song penned by Ambush and Stoddart for this project. Midnight in Morocco, another highlight, has an irresistible groove and is supported by a must-hear performance by trumpeter Aaron Broadus.

Drummer/producer Eric Valentine makes a strong appearance on several tracks along with bassists Alex Al, David Dyson and Chris Kent. Gorgeous, soulful vocals are delivered by jazz festival headliner Ron Gutierrez and producer John Stoddart. Enjoy great performances by guitarist Michael Ripoll and a host of others and add to that a final mix by LA’s Dave Rideau. With song after song of brilliant sound, world-class playing, and grooves that just keep getting better with every listen, Heart Song by Al Williams III is a CD not to miss.

From The Washington Post:

"Saxophonist-flutist Al Williams III should land a lot of gigs on the smooth-jazz festival circuit this summer if his new CD, "Heart Song," gets the airplay it deserves. After all, fans of the genre may regard it as picnic-perfect.

With the help of several guests, including vocalist Ron Gutierrez and Spyro Gyra's Scott Ambush and Tom Schuman, Williams sails through this tuneful pop-jazz collection, conjuring moods sunny, seductive and groove-driven by turns. His versatility (on tenor, alto and soprano saxes, plus alto and C flutes) is certainly impressive. But unlike many of his peers, Williams is more interested in lyricism than in switch-hitting antics. His way with a ballad is particularly evident at the album's close, during a sparse, flute-limned interpretation of the Gershwins' "Someone to Watch Over Me." A cover of Simply Red's "Holding Back the Years" and other contemporary tunes are similarly distinguished by Williams's melodic finesse.

As for the guests, bassist Ambush and keyboardist Schuman help animate "Skyline Drive," a funk-tinted showcase for Williams's tenor, while crooner Gutierrez stirs up "quiet storm" atmospherics on "I'm Going to Love You." The biggest assist, though, comes from John Stoddart, who plays three significant roles: producer, composer and vocalist. "
~ Mike Joyce, The Washington Post

Selected Discography

• Heart Song - Pacific Coast Jazz
• See For Yourself - First Step Records
• Never Too Late – First step Records
• It’s Who We Are – In Groove – Niembleu Ent.
• Keepin’ On Track – Julia Nixon – Double Dawg
• Way Out There – Exodus Quartet- Instinct Records
•With Nils Lofgrin
• Every Breath – Stampede Music
•With Stanley Clarke
• Modern Man – Nemporer Records
• I Want to Play for You – CBS Records
• Lips – Produced By Stanley Clarke – Nemporer
• Stanley Clarke Live ’76 –’77 – Sony
•With Mongo Santamaria
• Amanacer – Vaya (Grammy Winner)
• Sofrito – Vaya
• Mongo & Justo - Vaya
• Afro Indio – Vaya
•With Norman Connors
• The Dark of Light – Cobblestone Records

Al Williams III - Personal Story

I was born on a New Years Day in the city of Philadelphia. Since I was the first baby born that year, they put my picture in the paper. I was still wrinkled. How embarrassing! It wasn’t long before I was being exposed to my older brother’s record collection. He liked to play “Ray Charles at Newport” over and over. I still love that record.

Philadelphia had the most amazing arts programs in the public schools. Students from Curtis Institute of Music visited weekly as instrumental music teachers. In junior high, I took sax and oboe. Our band director was Mike Natale, who played trumpet on the Mike Douglas Show. You could also study in the evenings or Saturdays at the Settlement School with a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra. The fee was nominal. I took two lessons a week there, studying the bassoon with a wonderful man named Ferdinand Del Negro. With his help I got a small scholarship to attend the Philadelphia Musical Academy (PMA).

I had great company there with my high school buddies, drummer Gerry Brown (Return to Forever & Stevie Wonder), bassist John Lee (Eleventh House & Dizzy Gillespie), and Stanley Clarke. If that wasn’t crazy enough, former Duke Ellington bassist John Lamb was there to get his teaching degree, and one of his students was a very young Alphonso Johnson (later of Weather Report). Needless to say, our college big band swung to kill! We had Gerry Brown on drums and Duke’s bass player, with Stanley Clarke as the alternate bass player.

Since everyone around me was seriously into jazz, the bassoon fell by the wayside, and I managed to study the flute for a short time with a wonderful and kind man named John Krell. It was also about that time I became aware of Hubert Laws. He was an amazing inspiration, and he helped me to make the link between classical training and jazz application.

It was about that time that I had one of the most inspiring experiences of my young life. Thanks to my friend, Stanley Clarke, I was invited to rehearse with one of the early incarnations of “Return to Forever.” The band was Chick Corea, Stanley, Earl Klugh, and Lenny White, with me and Joe Farrell on saxes, flutes, oboe and bassoon. After I got over stark terror, it was an incredible experience. We rehearsed in Chick’s parent’s basement and Chick’s mom cooked dinner for us. Really!

As I reflect on it, I see that they weren’t supermen. They made mistakes. They were all really nice guys. But above all, they all worked really, really hard. It was a life lesson that I carry with me to this day.

After PMA, I auditioned to play with Cuban percussionist Mongo Santamaria. I got the gig and we hit the road. We traveled the US, Canada and South America, recording five albums. Our third record, “Amanacer,” won a Grammy for best Latin album. One day I got a call from Stanley asking me to join the “School Days Band.” It was a monster. I got a chance to play on stage with people like Jeff Beck and Simon Phillips. I recorded three albums with Stanley, “Modern Man,” “I Want to Play for You,” and “Stanley Clarke Live, '76, '77.”

My move to the D.C./Northern Virginia area landed me in a very rich musical environment. I got to tour Japan with The Nighthawks and again with singer Amy Keys. Another highlight was recording a one-hour concert on BET as a member of the Grant Geisman Band. I recorded a movie soundtrack with Nils Lofgren at his home studio and got to play for a period of time with bassist Keeter Betts (Stan Getz & Ella Fitzgerald). These days I find myself playing on a fairly frequent basis with great musician friends like Scott Ambush (Spyro Gyra) and Gary Grainger (John Scofield). Recent concerts have included major jazz festivals in Nashville, TN, and Fez, Morocco.

I have recorded three CD’s under my own name, “Never Too Late,” See for Yourself,” and “Heart Song.” My latest project “Heart Song” is a continuation of a decade long collaboration and friendship with singer/composer/producer John Stoddart. He is an amazingly talented human being and a great guy. I think it’s my best and most radio friendly effort so far. I consider myself to be a lucky and blessed individual to say that I’m a great fan and follower of some of my closest friends.

I look forward to experiencing and learning more and about this wonderful human expression of music and the crazy, wonderful people who make it. Ain’t it grand?