Live Jazz: The Patrick Williams Big Band at Vitello’s

By Tony Gieske

“Aurora” was not named after Aurore Dupin, Baronne Dudevant, better known as George Sand, as one would no doubt expect. No, it was in fact a richly imagined jump tune by Patrick Williams, of whom we all know who that is.

Patrick Williams

Since his flawless, boisterous and wonderfully precise band, which even had a French horn section, was performing at Vitello’s this past Friday, the listener would be unlikely to  confuse its output with the kind of cues Williams tosses off in hundreds of scores for screens big and little, gathering awards both nominated for and won.

Bob Sheppard

A television score would never let loose such flawless, boisterous and wonderful soloists as alto man Tom Scott, tenor and soprano sax man Bob Sheppard or trumpet players Warren Luening and Chuck Findley, or trombonists Andy Martin and Bob McChesney. To a man, their work was richly conceived and packed with invention.

Chuck Findley

And although Williams’ writing is well aware of most everything that can be or ought to be done with a full size jazz band, he lets you know that without imposing all of his knowledge on you at once. He nevertheless disperses a full ration of arresting colors and innovative shapes.

Peter Erskine

Even if there were to be a clumsiness here and there (as there never was), the quick-witted drumming of Peter Erskine would not allow it to reach the ear. You couldn’t ask for a more musical — or a more propulsive — drummer. The way he backed Sheppard, I thought, fit like a well-tailored dinner jacket.

He was a tireless engine behind the full band, yet Erskine easily damped down the volume and united with unerring bassist Jim Hughert for a couple of charts that had a sauntering Count Basie flavor.

The slow and romantic “Song for a Pretty Girl” brought out a tenor saxophonist who knew — like Luening and McChesney — how to play a melody. No matter how many arpeggios he threw in, every note was full and had a beginning, a middle and an end. And while I was looking to see if that was Ben Webster on his shoulder, I missed his name.

[Editor’s note: The tenor saxophonist was Jeff Driskill.]


Photos by Tony Gieske.  To read and see more of Tony’s essays and photos at his personal web site click HERE

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