AL WILLIAMS: NOT JUST THE FACE OF LIVE JAZZ IN LB, BUT ITS HEART, TOOBy Dave Wielenga
Al Williams has been beating the drum for jazz in Long Beach so long and so successfully that his career path—as owner of of intimate clubs like the Jazz Safari and Birdland West, as promoter of moonlit weekends like the Queen Mary Jazz Festival and the Long Beach Jazz Festival—pretty much doubles as the music’s local history during the past 35 years.
Nonetheless, one of the most-impressive examples of Williams’ relationship to the Long Beach scene will be on display Thursday night downtown at the Basement Lounge, where he will beat the drums for the city’s newest jazz series—Maxie Viltz’s weekly 2-The-Max shows—for the second time!
It was December 1, barely six weeks ago, that Williams helped Viltz launch her own jazz venture after booking at the Sea Bird Lounge a few blocks east on Broadway. He summoned his longstanding quintet, the Al Williams Jazz Society, gathered the group behind vocalist Barbara Morrison and together they provided an opening-night bill with buzz.
Acts of personal nurturing like this are what reveal Williams’ true commitment to jazz, to Long Beach and to people. And this Thursday he’ll be down in the Basement Lounge again, this time for a gig that will explore where his Jazz Society can go on its own.
Meanwhile, preparations are underway for another big jazz production—this one a Valentines-week show featuring Gerald Albright, Norman Brown and Boney James—by Rainbow Promotions, the company Williams founded a few decades ago and has largely handed off to his daughter, Kim Benoit.
In many ways, the Day of Love Jazz Concert scheduled for Feb. 11 at the Terrace Theatre, typifies the kind of show that has become Rainbow Productions specialty over the years. Albright, in particular, has become practically obligatory on an Al Williams bill. This time, he’s being combined with Brown and James to create a lineup is characterized by a style that is most-frequently (and perhaps most-lazily) called “smooth jazz”—or sometimes as contemporary jazz, although like “new wave” rock, that name may better reference the music’s style than its place on the time-space continuum.
All three artists resist the smooth-jazz label to varying degrees, preferring to emphasize their music’s roots in soul, R&B and sometimes pop. But the improvisations they work on these songs tend to replace the originals’ funk and raggedness with a finely textured sexiness and sophistication that is expressed through the seamless delivery of high-level instrumental proficiency.
What makes this music work so well with a Valentine’s Day theme is the sensuous romance that pulses from its glossy-cool performance. In embodying their sound, these artists never allude to the years of hard work that were required to achieve such instrumental mastery. Instead, they pretend to an unlimited supply and variety of prowess—all of it accessible through little more than the self-confidence to embrace one’s own excellence.
AL WILLIAMS JAZZ SOCIETY 2 THE MAX JAZZ • THURSDAY NIGHTS • BASEMENT LOUNGE • 149 LINDEN AVE (AT BROADWAY) • LONG BEACH 90802 • VILLAGETREASURESART.COM • BASEMENTLOUNGELB.COM • 8 PM-11:30PM, DANCING TIL 1:30 AM • $10
DAY OF LOVE JAZZ CONCERT TERRACE THEATRE • 300 E OCEAN BLVD • LONG BEACH 90802 • RAINBOW PROMOTIONS • TICKETS $40-$125 • TICKETMASTER 800.745.3000 • BOX OFFICE, MON-FRI 10AM-6PM, SAT NOON-4PM • FEB 11 • 7PM