Meeting the Other Richard Williams, Dr. Richard Allen Williams!
Back on a September night in Boston at Wally’s Café, I was playing with the band and in walks in a familiar-looking older gentleman wearing some dark shades and a Miles Davis tee shirt. He also had what looked like a trumpet case in his hand, ready to play! As it turns out I had met him in October of 2010 in Wilmington, Delaware at a Clifford Brown Tribute concert that we were both billed on. So I got off of the bandstand and reintroduced myself and invited him to the bandstand. His name was Dr. Richard Williams. We played a few tunes then we went on break.
During the break, Richard began telling me about his life in music. He was a classmate of Clifford Brown in Delaware. Clifford was a few grades ahead of him and during Clifford’s graduation he played an excerpt from the Carnival of Venice. Hearing this inspired Richard to become a better trumpeter and do the same thing at his graduation.
Richard later went on to study at Harvard University’s Medical School. Richard told me that for one of his projects at Harvard he decided to interview Clifford Brown. He went meet Clifford for the interview on an evening in late June of 1956. He said that the interview was a couple of hours and Clifford had to cut it short because it was getting late and he had a long drive ahead of him. That was the last time Richard saw Brownie alive because he, along with Beverly and Richie Powell passed away in a car accident.
Richard decided to join the music fraternity when he started at Harvard and one of his initiations was to go to see Miles at his performance in Boston and convince him to come to Harvard with his band for a concert.
Richard was familiar with Miles music and the players that were in his band at the time. At the concert in Boston Richard noticed that Miles had a new saxophonist in his band. Richard was taken aback by the style of this saxophone player and decided to go and introduce himself to Miles and ask him about his new saxophonist. So he approached Miles and asked him about this saxophonist (who turned out to be Trane, btw) and Miles replied, saying something to the degree of, “Why don’t you go and sit down and listen, you’ll probably learn something.” So Richard did for the rest of the concert and decided to go up to Miles at the end of the concert and talk to him about why he was really there. Miles actually agreed to bring the band to Harvard and that’s where Miles and Richard’s friendship began.
Sometime after finishing his studies at Harvard, Richard started a practice and had Miles as one of his primary clients. He said that he actually lived with Miles for a number of years. He relayed many stories about Miles that I never knew. He said that Miles had a thing for hair. If you knew Miles well, he would sometime run his fingers through your hair and ask if he could do your hair. He was also a visual artist as many of you may well know. Richard has many works by Miles including some illustrated ties that Miles made.
It’s always great to meet people like Dr. Williams, people who’ve actually lived the history of this music. It’s a constant reminder to me of how NEW this music is in relation to the age of other art forms.