Performances by the incomparable John Williams are few and far between these days, so when he does play it always constitutes an “event” of sorts. Well, now we’re hearing about an upcoming appearance which is certain to be special: On June 14 at the 606 Club, a basement jazz venue in London’s Chelsea area, Williams will be a guest of the group Four Plus Three, which is spearheaded by Williams’ jazz pianist daughter Kate Williams. Four Plus Three is an intriguing group consisting of a jazz trio—Williams, bassist Oli Hayhurst, and drummer David Ingamells—and a string quartet—violinists John Garner and Marie Schreer, violist Francis Gallagher, and cellist Sergio Serra (known collectively as the Guastalla Quartet). Anyone who has followed John Williams’ career knows that he has always ventured away from traditional classical guitar to embrace many other forms of music, so it’s not too much of stretch to envision him playing with a group such as this.
What makes it especially poignant, however, is that father and daughter have never played together before! In a recent interview with Sebastian Scotney’s wonderful online London Jazz News, Kate Williams explained the genesis this one-night-only performance:
“It was the coming together of two different things. When I first started Four Plus Three, I always had it in mind that it could be a lineup that could be quite flexible. We would get different guests, and I would arrange everything around that—last November we had [flautist] Gareth Lockrane and [electric guitarist] Mike Outram join us at the 606, and later this year we’ll be collaborating with [jazz vocalist and lyricist] Georgia Mancio.
“But it never occurred to me to ask my dad, because from the time when I first decided to go into music, I was aware of the ‘Oh, I’ve got a famous dad’ thing. I was very careful early on to keep everything separate, and he always encouraged me to get on with my own thing. But I think sometimes those things then become a habit without you even really thinking about it. It never really crossed my mind to ask him to do anything with Four Plus Three.
“What actually happened was, at the 606 a few months before Xmas last year, Steve Rubie [who has run the club/restaurant since 1976] approached me and said, ‘Oh, I’m just wondering, would you ever work with your dad, or have you ever considered it, and if so, would you do something with the strings project?’ My very first thought was, ‘Well I haven’t really thought of it.’ He said, ‘Just think, if you never work together you might regret it. If you never ever did one gig… Have a think about it and ask him?’ And when I thought about it I realized it would be really nice, a great thing to do.
“So I asked my dad. You know, you ask someone a question in a way that leaves them a way out, in case they don’t want to do it. So I rang him up and just said, ‘Well you’ll probably want to mull this over… don’t give me an answer now… but would you be willing to do a gig at the 606 with Four Plus Three?’ But he said yes immediately. No mulling over to be done. He was really pleased.”
And so, Kate Williams is planning to write some new material as well as integrate her father into other pieces. “This is my learning curve at the moment,” she told London Jazz News, “because classical guitar is an instrument that I’ve never composed for, which might sound strange, but because we haven’t worked together before… So, I’ve been kind of listening to various things. I was listening to some Joe Pass [jazz guitarist] the other day and trying to get his voicings, ‘steal’ some information that I could use in a useful way.
“We haven’t decided the whole program. It will be a mixture of things—there will be a collection of new pieces which I’m writing specially for it. I thought, ‘Let’s have a few things that are completely fresh’; no titles yet, but probably three or four short pieces grouped together. Then, at least one Bill Evans tune, but it won’t necessarily be one from the album [Bill Evans and the Impressionists], a tune or two from my septet CD [Made Up], and Nuages by Django Reinhardt: something which was specifically written by a guitarist, I thought would be nice.”
Sounds like a magnificent night in the making! —Blair Jackson
Below, Kate Williams talks about Four Plus Three and we see them in action:
And, because we can’t resist, here’s a video of John Williams playing Sakura Variations by Yuquijiro Yocoh, shot in Sevilla in November 1992 (and incorporated in a TV special the following year):