February 16, 2018- Today's Harlem Topic: Fess Williams
More on Fess Williams...
Beginning in 1926, Fess Williams led a very popular band in Harlem but his name is little known today. He formed his Royal Flush Orchestra and became the first house band at the Savoy Ballroom.
He was a flamboyant leader that usually performed in white suit and top hat and played the clarinet in the “gas pipe” style. That’s when the instrument is used to produce honks, growls, animal noises and all kinds of squeaks and odd sound effects.
It’s a dated sound today but was very popular with audiences in the 1920s.
Williams was also a master of the slap tongue technique and could circular breath holding a long note without taking a breath, driving the audience into a frenzy.
The band recorded for several labels including Victor, Vocalion, Okeh and Brunswick. Their biggest selling record was “Hot Town” in 1929
The band recorded for the last time in 1930. Williams continued as a bandleader for a few more years but fell out of favor by the end of the decade and retired from music to sell real estate.
Fess Williams was the Uncle of jazz great Charles Mingus. In 1962 Mingus pulled his Uncle out of retirement and featured him on his famous Town Hall Concert. Back on stage for the first time in many years, Williams led a seven piece band that included some of his old band members as well as current Mingus reedman Eric Dolphy.