Anthony Tillmon "Tony" Williams (December 12, 1945 — February 23, 1997) was an American jazz drummer.
Widely regarded as one of the most important and influential jazz drummers to come to prominence in the 1960s, Williams first gained fame in the band of trumpeter Miles Davis, and was a pioneer of jazz fusion.
Born in Chicago and growing up in Boston, Williams began studies with drummer Alan Dawson at an early age and began playing professionally at the age of 13 with saxophonist Sam Rivers. Saxophonist Jackie McLean hired Williams at 16. At 17 Williams found considerable fame with Miles Davis, joining a group that was later dubbed Davis's "Second Great Quintet." Williams was a vital element of the group, called by Davis in his autobiography "the center that the group's sound revolved around". His inventive playing helped redefine the role of jazz rhythm section through the use of polyrhythms and metric modulation (transitioning between mathematically related tempos and/or time signatures).
Williams's first album as a leader, 1964's Life Time, was recorded during his tenure with Davis. In 1969, he formed a trio, The Tony Williams Lifetime, with John McLaughlin on guitar, and Larry Young on organ. Jack Bruce on bass was added later. Lifetime was a pioneering band of the fusion movement, a combination of rock, R&B, and jazz. Their first album, Emergency!, was largely rejected by the jazz community at the time of its release. Today, Emergency! is considered by many to be a fusion classic.
After McLaughlin's departure, and several more albums, Lifetime disbanded. In 1975, Williams put together a band he called "The New Tony Williams Lifetime", featuring bassist Tony Newton, pianist Alan Pasqua, and English guitarist Allan Holdsworth, which recorded two albums for Columbia Records, Believe It and Million Dollar Legs.
In mid-1976, Williams was a part of a reunion of sorts with his old Miles Davis band compatriots, pianist/keyboardist Herbie Hancock, bassist Ron Carter, and tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter. Miles was in the midst of a six-year hiatus and was replaced by Freddie Hubbard. The record was later released as V.S.O.P. ("Very Special OneTime Performance") and was highly instrumental in increasing the popularity of acoustic jazz. The group went on to tour and record for several years, releasing a series of live albums under the name "V.S.O.P." or "The V.S.O.P. Quintet." (The CD reissues of these albums are sold under Herbie Hancock's name - making things a bit confusing since the original V.S.O.P. album, which alone was a Hancock album, is not currently available on CD.)
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