Pianist Jessica Williams has died
The brilliant pianist and composer Jessica Williams was known for her devotion to music and her complex personality. She died on March 10.
Two-time Grammy nominee Jessica Williams was born in Baltimore, Maryland, and classically trained at the Peabody Conservatory of Music. In her teens, Williams moved to Philadelphia and began playing with drummer Philly Joe Jones.
Relocating to San Francisco in 1977, Williams became the house pianist at the famous Keystone Korner jazz club. She also worked with Eddie Harris, Dexter Gordon, Tony Williams, Stan Getz, Airto Moreira and Flora Purim, Charlie Rouse, John Abercrombie, Charlie Haden, Leroy Vinnegar, and others.
Williams received two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Rockefeller Grant for composing, the Alice B. Toklas Grant for Women Composers, and the prestigious John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship. She was an honored guest on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross, and on Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz. She also wrote musical scores for PBS and HBO programs.
Williams recorded more than 50 albums over her career, eight of them on the Seattle-based Origin Records label.
Celebrated for her absolute control of the keyboard, her wit, and her solid sense of swing, the influence of Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane was evident in many of Williams' performances and recordings.
Williams settled in Portland, Oregon in 1993, and then later in Yakima, Washington. She created a her own record label and music publishing company in an effort to retain control of her creative output.
Severe spinal problems sent Williams through major surgery in 2012. The medical procedures and recovery were lengthy, complicated and expensive; she ended up having to sell her beloved Yamaha piano.
Williams tried to stay positive and active, posting on her website, "I have decided that the best thing I can do for myself is to do what I do, and be who I am. I love my music, and I will soon release new music and begin performing again. There are many things to do, and I will start slow, but speed alone is not music — soul and passion are. I am not done."
Jessica Williams' music will be featured on Jim Wilke's Jazz Northwest program on KNKX this Sunday, March 20, at 2 p.m.
A GoFundMe page has been initiated to help Williams' husband with funeral, medical and living expenses. Find out more here.