The recent, unexpected death of master drummer Anthony Williams came as a terrible shock to his family, friends, and music lovers everywhere. On Thursday, February 20, Williams, after complaining of stomach pain, was admitted to the hospital for gall bladder surgery. On Sunday, February 23, while recuperating from surgery, he apparently suffered a fatal heart attack. He was 51. Many of Williams’ friends and colleagues in the New York area did not learn of his passing until a few days later, when WKCR, the jazz radio station broadcasting from the campus of Columbia University, began playing Williams’ recordings around the clock in tribute.
We at JazzTimes mourn Tony’s passing, which is indeed a devastating loss. Best known for his work in the ’60s with the Miles Davis quintet, which he joined when he was only 16, Williams also dabbled in fusion in the ’70s with his supercharged organ trio, Lifetime, which featured B-3 master Larry Young and introduced guitarist John McLaughlin to the masses. In the ’80s he led a quintet that featured up-and-coming musicians, including trumpeter Wallace Roney. Recently, he had come closer than ever to realizing a lifelong dream, to be recognized for his abilities as a composer and arranger as much as for his brilliant, groundbreaking work as an instrumentalist. His last CD, Wilderness (Ark21), showcased his writing for a full orchestra, as well as for an all-star quintet with Michael Brecker, Pat Metheny, Herbie Hancock, and Stanley Clarke.