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Joe Williams featuring Ben Webster: Havin’ a Good Time!

It was ice cold in Providence. The snowstorm on that night in ’64 was reaching record intensity. Still, a few stalwart souls bravely faced the elements to catch the late show at Pio’s, where the heat coming from the stage was full blast. The biggest voice in the business, Joe Williams, was fronting a quartet whose membership extended from brilliant (drummer Mickey Roker, bassist Bob Cranshaw) to blistering (pianist Junior Mance) to beyond category (Ben Webster blowing tenor sax). The repertoire was standard Williams’ fare-“Just a-Sittin’ and a-Rockin’,” “Kansas City Blues” and a double nod to Fats Waller with “Ain’t Misbehavin'” and “Honeysuckle Rose”-blended with a couple of sweet surprises: “The Great City” and “That’s All,” the latter so new to Williams that he confessed he didn’t know all the lyrics.

Until now, this legendary club date existed only in the memories of those few, brave, jazz-loving polar bears who filled Pio’s ringside tables. But when tapes surfaced as part of the Williams collection at the Hamilton College Jazz Archive, director Monk Rowe had the smarts to tell Nat Hentoff, who, in turn, wisely told producer Joel Dorn. Result? The 54-minute Havin’ a Good Time (Hyena) that, despite minor technical flaws and a couple of seemingly sloppy edits, provides an aural snapshot of legends in fun-loving, mutually respectful harmony that is beyond priceless.

Originally Published