The Real DealA Song that I Heard
In the PocketThe Next Step
For Duke Ellington
Jessica Williams on HEP Records - Available at hepjazz and at and all other major outlets

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The Real Deal

Jessica Williams, solo piano

  1. Misty
  2. Morning of the Carnival
  3. Friday the 13th
  4. Petite Fleur
  5. If I Should Lose You
  6. Round Midnight
  7. Teo
  8. Sweet and Lovely
  9. To Thelonious with Love
  10. Out and Out Blues
  11. My Romance
  12. Don't Blame Me


itemScott Yanow, Author, The All Music Guide; in the September, 2004 issue of the Los Angeles Jazz Scene

A brilliant pianist who can apparently play anything that comes into her mind, Jessica Williams has been one of the giants for nearly 20 years, ever since she reached a high level in the mid-1980s. She never lets her virtuosity rule the music nor are her solos overcrowded or overly dense; she lets the music breathe. Her wit and constant sense of swing make her performances accessible yet other pianists must at times wonder how she thought of (much less played) a particular phrase.

Jessica Williams has recorded quite a few albums by now, and none are unworthy. The Real Deal, her fifth outing for the Scottish Hep label, is a solo recital. Among the standards that she explores are 'Misty' (during which she purposely hints at Erroll Garner), 'Morning Of The Carnival' (inspired by hearing Kenny Barron play the Brazilian classic), an unusual version of 'Petite Fleur' that is played entirely on the extreme upper register of the piano, an inventive transformation of 'If I Should Lose You,' 'My Romance' and 'Don't Blame Me.'

Long one of the top interpreters of Thelonious Monk's music, Jessica Williams' solo version of 'Friday The 13th' uses a Monkish pattern in her left-hand while her right flies freely. She also performs a thoughtful version of ''Round Midnight,' a rare rendition of Monk's obscure 'Teo,' a version of 'Sweet And Lovely' that is similar to Thelonious' and two originals ('To Thelonious with Love' and 'Out And Out Blues') that are dedicated to the late pianist-composer.

There are no throwaway tracks on this set, nor are there any Jessica Williams CDs that should be overlooked. The Real Deal lives up to its name and it serves as a perfect introduction to the pianist's playing. - Scott Yanow, Author, The All Music Guide

itemDave Gelly, Sunday June 13, 2004 The London Observer - Jessica Williams, The Real Deal (Hep 2086)

Jessica Williams is always at her best when playing solo piano, as she does here. Her ideas are so mercurial and her technique so complete that she needs all the space she can get.

On this set of a dozen improvisations, recorded at home on her own piano, she displays all the invention and gentle wit that her admirers value and which the wider jazz audience has yet to discover. She has such a broad stylistic range that it is impossible to talk about a 'typical' Williams piece.

The material here, for instance, ranges from Thelonious Monk to Sidney Bechet, plus a couple of her own compositions, and each number has a distinct and singular flavour. If you have yet to meet Jessica Williams, this would be a good place to do so. -Dave Gelly

itemLiner Notes by Jessica Williams:

Maybe it's something many jazz musicians do, or maybe it's just me: I'll record a series of tunes, either standards or originals or both, and then I won't hear it for months. I get busy with other projects, making new Music, going out on tour, daydreaming of what might be around the next musical bend for me, and I totally forget what I did in total absorption and commitment only months before. Creating spontaneous, largely improvisational Music is an act of deeply felt emotion, and emotion is transitory and fluid.

It is the transitory nature, the fluid quality of this Music that holds me and leaves me breathless when I make it and it makes and remakes me.

And then, it fades; the fluid nature of our reality demands that we make way for new experiences and emotions.

When we are reminded of our state of consciousness at a past time (in this case by hearing a collection of piano solos that I had recorded for Alastair Robertson at HEP Records, and then forgotten about) it can be an unpleasant confrontation with the self, or a surprisingly joyful surprise (...was I really playing that well? I don't remember THAT!)

My reaction to this set, after not hearing it for almost a year is 'Alright. I can live with this.' And if that doesn't sound like over-the-top enthusiasm, it's simply that I spend lots of my time at home listening to John Coltrane, and that I tend to critique myself a bit harshly. John removed every barrier he could between his higher self and the Music, and the horn simply ceased to be a technical consideration, to the extent that this is humanly possible; it's been my intention, particularly in the past months, to reach a similar place with my instrument, the piano, and am always surprised at the tenacity of matter over mind. Some days I look across the room at this seven-foot monster and think that I'm not a pianist, never will be.

Other days, it comes to me and purrs at my feet.

When I just let the Music play itself, I'm OK. When I try to fly, I fall.
Here, I'm OK. I'm getting there. I'm definitely a REAL and original Jazz musician, and I definitely deeply love this Music. I'm not the pianist I want to be and probably never will be, but I am definitely making good Jazz Music.

Erroll Garner's 'Misty' is an example. I honor the composer and the feeling of the tune itself, as that master musician played it. How can I do otherwise? It sounds ridiculous to me to do otherwise. I love the way Erroll played his tune, and I'll honor the way he approached it.

One point for honor.

And I can only play what I hear, and of course I'm in my self being myself so there's a lot of me in this rendition, and so there are angles and planes and the pauses I like so much and the really fast little explosions of notes that are MINE.

Two for originality.

Finally, I like to swing. Jazz MUST swing, even when it's standing still, waiting to pounce.

This swings. Three.

I usually never do tune-by-tune discourses in liner notes anymore, because I never agree with what I wrote when I read the tune-by-tune discourses, years later.

I only will write things that I think will still be (relatively) true, in (at least) a few years.

I believe that what follows will remain to be true for awhile (to me, at least):

I would have never chosen to play 'Theme from Morning of the Carnival' if I had not heard Kenny Barron (with whom I was touring in Japan) play it with conviction and humor and respect. It really had never occurred to me that I might ever play a 'Brazilian' tune convincingly. I do it here because Kenny 'showed me how' by example.

Monk's 'Friday the 13th' is not a solo vehicle. For drums, maybe. Not for piano. It took me at least a day to get this on tape. I won't do it again. This is a good one.

'Petite Fleur' is too cool for school. It's a wind-up jewelry box. It belongs to Rahsaan Roland Kirk. He carries it with him in his traveling road show. He takes it out and winds it up and starts it up and plays flute along with it. As it winds down, he winds down with it. That's all in my head when I hear this. Of course it's a piano. But that's what I see, what I hear.

'If I Should Lose You' will speak for itself. It proves I can really play the piano. I don't think it proves a whole lot else, but that's just one gal's opinion. It's excessive, a habit that I've since broken; but it's great fun, and full of itself in a tongue-in-cheek way, so I'm cool with it.

'Round Midnight', I play with great reverence for the Grand Master, Monk. It stands by itself. I don't do a lot to it. It doesn't NEED things done to it. It just IS, like The Rockies, like Niagara Falls. October 10th should be a holiday all over the world (his birthday).
'Teo' is another Monk invention. I like it here, as it's sparse and it's bluesey. And 'Sweet and Lovely' is all about how Monk might have played the changes (he probably did, at some point) and how I hear him playing them. I rewrite this tune to some extent. I always felt it needed some rewriting anyway.

'To Thelonious with Love' is mine, for him, as is 'Out and Out Blues'.

'My Romance' is me walking through the woods, examining every leaf, every tree. Totally lost in every nuance and facet of my surroundings. I'm a part of nature too. I love being alive.

'Don't Blame Me' says it best. If you say it sounds like Monk, that's only true for a second, at any given time. Hear Coltrane there? Hear Philly Joe and that little thing he does with his hi-hat at the end of a long phrase? Hear Paul in my left hand? I can't stop hearing Miles, either.

I grew up with these Masters. They're my teachers, the Shapers of my Destiny. They are the Navigators. I would be a fool not to follow them quietly, with temperance and humble regard. They were here for such a short time, as am I, and I can only listen to their song playing in my ears and let it spill out into this transient and liquid reality.

I was sitting there, perfectly innocently, and this CD (in raw form) came in the mail with a note attached by Alastair; 'Some liner notes, please, Jessica'.

I met myself again listening to this album, and I liked who I was then, and I like who I am now. I'm lighter now, less baggage. Prettier too, I think. At peace. More fun. Definitely healthier. Less competitive. Easier to get along with. Life is such a TRIP!

The me I hear here, though; she was happening too, in her own sweet way! -Jessica Williams

Cover photos of Jessica by Elaine Arc | unavailable | buy at

A Song I Heard

Jessica Williams, p; Dick Berk, dr; Jeff Johnson, b

  1. Make It So
  2. Burning Castles
  3. I Wish I Knew
  4. Beautiful Girl of My Dreams
  5. Geronimo Blues
  6. Kristen
  7. Alone Together
  8. Blues Not
  9. Say It
  10. Song That I Heard Somewhere
  11. Blues for Mandela
  12. I'll Remember April

Cover photos of Jessica by Elaine Arc | unavailable | buy at

In the Pocket

Jessica Williams, p; Dick Berk, dr; Jeff Johnson, b

  1. Weirdo
  2. Gal in Calico
  3. I Really Love You
  4. Driftin
  5. For You Again
  6. Cheek to Cheek
  7. I Remember Bill
  8. I Don't Stand a Ghost of a Chance with You
  9. Pfrancing

Cover photos of Jessica by Elaine Arc | unavailable | buy at

The Next Step

Jessica Williams, solo piano

  1. Takin' a Chance on Love
  2. Stonewall Blues
  3. Easter Parade
  4. Bongo's Waltz
  5. I Didn't Know until You Told Me
  6. The Quilt
  7. Clear Blue Lou
  8. I Should Care
  9. Theme for Lester Young (Goodbye Pork Pie Hat)
  10. Like Someone in Love
  11. I'll Always Be in Love with You
  12. I Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good)
  13. Little Waltz

Cover photos of Jessica by Elaine Arc | unavailable | buy at

I Let a Song go Out of my Heart

Jessica Williams plays Duke Ellington

  1. Things Ain't What they Used to be
  2. I Let a Song go Out of my Heart
  3. Do Nothing Till you Hear from Me
  4. Interlude #1 (JW)
  5. Prelude to a Kiss
  6. Satin Doll
  7. In a Sentimental Mood
  8. It Don't Mean a Thing
  9. Interlude #2 (JW)
  10. Angelica
  11. Caravan
  12. Don't Get Around Much
  13. Interlude #3 (JW)
  14. C-Jam Blues
  15. Down at Duke's Place


itemReview by JAZZNOW's Lawrence Brazier

'Yes, well, we love him (Duke) madly, too, but the music, however, speaks for itself. Still, the music will suffice to enable male listeners to transmute their baser instincts.

This review could only be written for the lost souls who have never actually heard our lady play; most believers will purchase her records automatically.

So now you have Jessica Williams playing the music of Duke Ellington, the man who should have been President of the entire world. Call it wishful thinking but madam's rendition of Prelude To A Kiss was this listener's favorite.

At least, that's what it was until one heard her irresistible C-Jam Blues.

Utterly delightful. Full of surprises and marvelous interpretation. Can hardly be bettered. Buy and be happy.' -Review by Lawrence Brazier of JAZZNOW

Liner notes by Jessica Williams

There are levels of accomplishment in all fields of creative pursuit. From the fledgling hobbyist to the mature artist, there are infinite shades and gradations of achievement. How these achievements are measured is another matter altogether; art doesn't render itself easily to critical analysis, at least not any analysis that is anything other than subjective.

But there is a quality that is so transcendent and singular that it often makes the surrounding artistic landscape appear banal, even mediocre, by comparison. And while an artist is defined by their entire "body of work" (the compositions, technique, originality, character, and vision) it is still very rare to encounter a "fractal" artist. This term being my own, I should explain.

A fractal image would be a portion, a fragment of the entire image. But it would contain the information of the image in its entirety. Holograms work this way. It's nearly analogous to a genetic code...a series of markers that occur over and over in a larger aggregate of offspring. So an artist that had this quality would be identifiable by one work; by a portion of one work; by the atmospheric quality of the smallest portion of a work.

Monk was like that. Miles, Coltrane, and a handful of other innovators. And, of course, Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington.

The major point of departure concerning Duke is that he defined the code; he invented so much of the language that was used by those who followed. He not only innovated: he quite simply invented. In that sense, his body of work stands as a fractal template for the jazz to come.

It's not my intention to even attempt a short discourse on his music or his life. It's my job to play music and to be a musician. I'd rather not think of myself as a pianist. I don't believe Duke thought of himself as one, either. I think of myself as a musician who uses the piano as a vehicle for expression. If some new and improved vehicle comes along, I'll jump aboard. So far, the piano seems to fill the bill. And since I've been playing Duke's music for nearly forty years, I have understandably imposed a strong personal signature on his compositions. That I hear each composition as a part of a larger story is helpful; there's a tone and a taste (that fractal code) that permeates his work, and it permeates my work here also because I have lived with and loved his music for so many years.

I wanted this album to be about Duke, and about me playing Duke's music, but mainly about the 'feeling' of Duke, about how it feels to be so absorbed in the intricate web of his beautiful compositions and how it feels to soar over terrain that was first mapped out and explored by this genius of American art. So there's a mood to this work. Sometimes it's almost like film noir: lots of shadows, lots of suspense, lots of tension. And then it releases and there's dancing and celebration. In the end, that's what Duke's music is like to me. A really suspenseful movie with a really happy ending. It's about how great it is to be alive.

Thing Ain't What They Used to Be is all about the blues. I start out with tenths in the left hand, and by the last few choruses, I hear the whole band entering, 'moaning' the way only his band could. I Let a Song Go Out of my Heart is a very modern take, similar in some ways to how 'Trane might have approached the soloing. Of course, you've probably heard the album they made together for Impulse (MCAD 39103, Duke Ellington Meets John Coltrane).

Do Nothing, Interlude #1, and Prelude all create that feeling (like being in a new country... a place called Ellingtonia) that I speak of above.

(On the three "Interludes" included here: I am improvising totally without form, just letting elements fall in place and letting one idea lead to the next, but in a way that speaks in the same language as Duke's tunes. The Interludes are like bridges from one story-line to the next, and I think that each of the three captures a bit of the grace and elegance that was so much a part of all of his music.)

Satin Doll was never a personal favorite - and yet here it is one of my favorite takes. It's not what you say but the way that you say it, I suppose! In a Sentimental Mood and It Don't Mean a Thing both receive modern treatments, and Interlude #2 is certainly portentious of things to come. And along comes Angelica, a tune that I learned from the Ellington-Coltrane collaboration. It's one of my favorites here.

Then Caravan, and I get to use that middle-peddle that is so ignored and maligned. I love it, and it gives me pedal-tones (like drones in Indian music) that would not be possible otherwise. Don't Get Around Much is a tune I've played forever so I burn it up here. Interlude #3 is a composition unto just happened that way. And C-Jam and Duke's Place are essentially similar (identical?) compositions that receive very different treatments as far as tempo goes. The walking four bass in the left hand is second-nature to me. Part of that is my having played the B-3 organ for a short while, and part of it is my love for Paul Chambers (by way of Jimmy Blanton). I hear all the elements in my head, and somehow they translate to the keys without much thought or work on my part. So while my right hand is doing the band and the horn solos, and my left foot is tapping firmly on two and four, my left hand is holding down the bass chair. This is not something I can remember ever practicing. The best things in life are still free.

I should also mention that I recorded this cd myself, in my home studio, at my own piano. I think the recording came out great, and I like the idea of recording at home because I'm not feeling that pressure to get an album done in one day because the meter's running, and, at a hundred-plus dollars an hour, things can get expensive rather quickly. I've been in studios where, as I was arriving, the last group (usually a rock band) was leaving. The engineer took twenty minutes to set up two microphones over a piano that had, by now, been beaten to within an inch of its life by a person that should've been a pro wrestler. I've been in situations (never again) that demanded that I produce a full album in two hours. I've gone into a studio with the flu, or a stomach-ache... the point is, if you set up a date at a studio, you have to be there no matter how you feel; and if someone else is paying for the studio time, that recording may go out into the world whether it was your best work or your worst.

A few years ago, I invested in a 16-track Mackie mixer, some Octava microphones, two digital tape recorders, an Alesis reverb unit, an equalizer, and a 7-foot grand piano. I've made some of my best music in that studio (otherwise known as my living room, although it bears no resemblance to the average American living room in that there is no furniture, no TV, a set of Slingerland drums in one corner, two synthesizers in another...along with lots of plants, a dog and cat that hang on my every note, and a lot of wooden flutes and bells and whistles and shakers lying around).

I've probably spent hundreds of hours getting just the right mic placement, the optimum 'eq', the right amount of isolation, and making sure that the recordings are as pure and true to the 'real-life' sound as I can get them. I don't have a lot of expensive equipment, but it's not what you've got but the way that you use it! Less is more sometimes.

There are dozens, probably hundreds of tributes to Duke Ellington. They proliferate like lice on a pup. To make a special and lasting tribute album in jazz demands (or should demand) that the statement is in some way unique or original, or, at the very least, deeply respectful of the subject of that tribute. I hope I've succeeded on at least a few of those levels... to my ears, I have, and hope you agree and enjoy my humble tribute to one of the great inventors and innovators of jazz, Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington. I love him madly!

-Jessica Williams, Monterey Bay Area, California, January, 2001

Recorded digitally direct to DAT 2 trk, in Jessica's home on her own 7 foot Cline Grand. Engineer-Jessica Williams Date- Sept and Oct of 2000 - Jessica Williams, solo piano (The Interludes are spontaneous compositions and improvisations)

Cover photos of Jessica by Elaine Arc | unavailable | buy at


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