Ben Williams & Sound Effect
As an energetic six year old, Ben Williams was as curious as a cat. Ben’s mother worked for Congressman John Conyers (an avid jazz lover) on Capitol Hill, so when she took the youngster into the office on his school break, a watchful eye was in order. One afternoon, while gazing around Conyers’ large, leather appointed office, Ben discovered a huge object that instantly captured his imagination. The shiny upright bass was like nothing the kid had ever seen. He tapped on it. He popped a string. He climbed up on it. “What is this thing?” he wondered.
Twenty years later, Ben Williams is still surprised at that chance meeting.
“Its low frequency attracted me,” Williams recalls, “the way the instrument felt when I touched it. Then, later, just the feeling of playing a groove. When you play a bass the whole instrument vibrates. It almost feels like the spirit of another human being. It’s like dancing with somebody and being in full contact with them. And the sound of the instrument appealed to me. It’s warm and deep and it resonated with me.”
On the eve of his first CD, State of Art, Ben Williams is one of the most sought after bassists in the world, his resume a who’s who of jazz wisdom: Wynton Marsalis, Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny, Terence Blanchard, Christian McBride Big Band, Nicholas Payton, Paquito D’Rivera, Cyrus Chestnut, Benny Golson, George Duke, Eric Reed, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Roy Hargrove, and Mulgrew Miller, to name a few.
Ben’s warm, woody tone, flowing groove, melodic phrasing, and storytelling approach has found favor among musicians, but also a larger audience. A bandleader, musical educator, composer, and electric and acoustic bassist, Ben was the winner of the 2009 Thelonious Monk Institute International Jazz Competition, a prestigious and important award that has propelled many a promising career. Working with New York’s finest jazz musicians even before graduating from Juilliard, Williams showcased his band, Sound Effect, at The Jazz Gallery in New York, receiving an enthusiastic New York Times review. Writer Nate Chinen stated “Williams took several long solos in his first set at The Jazz Gallery . . . and each one felt more like an entitlement than an indulgence.”
Williams has recorded and performed regularly as a member of bands led by saxophonist Marcus Strickland, pianist Jacky Terrasson, and vibraphonist Stefon Harris. He’s led his own groups at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, Harlem Stage, Rubin Museum of Art, Tribeca PAC in New York City, and SPAC in Saratoga Springs, NY. State of Art signals Williams’ emergence as a prominent voice in the greater jazz community.
To other musician’s music, Williams brings his great natural skill and determination to explore, to expand boundaries while sustaining tradition. State of Art is a mature statement stamped with his voice, the next step in Ben Williams’ evolution.
“I wanted to make an album that regular nine-to-five people could enjoy,” Williams says; “and to make a deep artistic statement as well. I like music that grooves, and I make sure that my music feels good."
“I always bring a certain energy to whatever the musical situation is,” the soft-spoken musician adds. “I try to be a team player and be supportive, but also, I try to add my voice to the situation. It’s a fine balance between putting your stamp on things and being supportive. I’ve found that balance pretty well. The diversity of my musical upbringing has allowed me to be comfortable in many different musical situations. I don’t try to sound like anyone else, I just try to be honest musically and bring a youthful spirit.”