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Claude 'Fiddler" Williams

"The Man Who Can't Help But Swing" - Wynton Marsalis

Born: Muskogee, OK, February 22, 1908, Claude Williams developed his fat, horn-like sound along side Kansas City reed & brass players such as Charlie Parker & Lester Young. Jams at the Musicians Foundation Building in KC included Mary Lou Williams & members of the Oklahoma Blue Devils.

Bands and artists of note include The Pettifords Band, Andy Kirk's Twelve Clouds of Joy, Don Byas, Buddy Tate, Lloyd Glen, Nat Cole's trio and the Basie Band. Claude preceded Freddie Green as Basie's first recorded guitarist in 1936. In the '60s and '70s he led groups and worked with others playing "Newport in New York" and Monterey. 

During the 1980's Claude played in the Paris production of Black and Blue, followed by an award-winning run in New York with Roland Hanna, and Grady Tate. He was the first inductee into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame. Since 1990 he's been featured on "CBS News Sunday Morning," played Carnegie twice, and opened Lincoln Center's "Kansas City Swing and Shout" event with his trio. Claude performed for Clinton's first inaugural, toured Australia and released two CDs titled "Claude Williams, Live at J's, Volumes 1 & 2," placing on "Best of 1994" jazz critic's polls, the Village Voice and Pulse! 

Black Liberated Arts, Inc. presented Williams with their first Charlie Christian Jazz Award. In '94 and '95 his live recording aired on NPR's "Jazz Set" and he toured 23 cities headlining a Masters of the Folk Violin tour. During 1995 he performed at the North Sea Jazz Festival in Holland & the JVC Jazz Festival in New York, where he returned in 1996. 

Claude's Progressive SwingTime in New York CD with Roland Hanna, Earl May and Bill Easley garnered hot reviews. The Smithsonian documented him for its Jazz Oral History Project. An American Federation of Jazz Societies' Statesmen of Jazz recording includes Claude, Milt Hinton, Al Grey, Clark Terry, Buddy Tate, Jane Jarvis, Benny Waters, Panama Francis & Joe Wilder. He toured the U.S. and Japan as a Statesmen. 

"Fiddler" began 1997 with two weeks in Europe, where he recorded for Sackville. His 89th birthday was celebrated educating students at the Smithsonian by day and playing the Willard Hotel evenings. His induction into the Oklahoma Music Hall of fame with Patti Page, Woody Guthrie and Merle Haggard, participation in Mark O'Connor's fiddle camp and Dick Hyman's "Jazz in July" in New York, opening the Greater Hartford Jazz Fest, touring Japan, broadcast of a one-hour "Jazz Profiles-tribute to Claude Williams" on over 200 stations and releasing King of Kansas City, led up to his 90th birthday. 

Claude's 90th birthday was a normal one -- he played five shows in five days in four cities! On Feb. 22, the birthday, he was honored and played in a "Strung Together" concert in Northampton, MA, with five other fiddlers spanning an age difference of 74 years. Bill Clinton did not send a card this year, but Claude was invited to play the White House with Bucky Pizzarelli and Keter Betts backing dancers Savion Glover, Jimmy Slyde and more. Watch for an upcoming "In Performance at the White House" PBS special taped on March 9 by WETA.

Discography and ordering information


Last modified 4 November 1998
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