Joe Williams

Havin’ a Good Time

Joe Williams (1918-99) had a long, varied career that included performing with the boogie-woogie piano team of Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson in the ’40s. In 1954 he joined Count Basie’s band and scored a major hit with “Every Day I Have the Blues,” which revived both Basie’s and Williams’ fortunes. After leaving Basie in 1961 he focused on pop material. Here, he’s teamed with tenor man Ben Webster on a newly discovered tape of a 1964 gig in a Rhode Island nightclub. Although critic Whitney Balliett (who famously described jazz as “the sound of surprise”) once called him “a loud imitation of a blues singer,” his best work on this CD (for me, anyway) comes when he’s working out on the blues. With a rhythm section anchored by pianist Junior Mance he gives “Kansas City Blues” a marvelous workout. Ditto for Ben Webster, who shines on the handful of tracks where he’s featured. Another highlight is “That’s All,” a lovely ballad. The nadir is “By the River Ste. Marie,” an uptempo exercise in tunelessness. A mixed bag, to be sure.