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Williams, Cootie [Charles Melvin]

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Williams, Cootie [Charles Melvin]

(b Mobile, AL, 10 July 1911; d New York, 15 Sept 1985). American jazz trumpeter and bandleader. He taught himself to play the trumpet and toured with the Young Family band (which included Lester Young) when he was only 14. In 1928 he went to New York, where he made his first recordings (with James P. Johnson) and played briefly in the bands of Chick Webb and Fletcher Henderson. By February 1929 he had joined the Duke Ellington orchestra as a replacement for Bubber Miley, beginning a long association which was to make him famous. In his first 11 years with Ellington his playing became an indispensable part of the band’s sonority, and Ellington integrated solos for him into hundreds of compositions. Williams also took part in many excellent small-group recordings with Teddy Wilson, Billie Holiday, Lionel Hampton, Charlie Christian and other leading jazz musicians of the swing period.

After leaving Ellington in November 1940, Williams played for a year in Benny Goodman’s band and small groups, then formed his own successful big band, which was booked several times at the Savoy Ballroom, New York, and included such important aspiring bop musicians as Charlie Parker and Bud Powell. Gradually, though still at the height of his powers, Williams faded from public view. Forced to reduce his band to a smaller ensemble in 1948, and finally to discontinue it altogether, he became active as a rhythm-and-blues musician in the 1950s and later led his own small jazz group, with which he took part in several important recording sessions with Rex Stewart in 1957–8. In 1962 he rejoined Ellington’s band, where he remained, with brief interruptions, until the late 1970s.

Williams was a master of swing-style jazz trumpet playing, and achieved a range of tone and shading on his instrument that was unsurpassed in his day. Having quickly mastered the growl and plunger effects of Bubber Miley, his predecessor in Ellington’s band, Williams extended these techniques to encompass an unprecedented variety of moods and timbres, from gentle nostalgia to searing vehemence. Although he remained supreme in the use of the growl and plunger mutes, Williams was equally adept on the open instrument, particularly as an accompanist to jazz singers and as an interpreter of the blues. His playing inspired Ellington to one of his greatest masterpieces, Concerto for Cootie (1940, Vic.), where Williams may be heard using straight mute, plunger mute and open trumpet. In later years his style lost some of its subtlety but none of its urgency and swing, as attested by his performance in New Concerto for Cootie (on the album Suite Thursday, 1963, Atl.), written by Ellington to celebrate his return to the band.

Williams was also an effective if reluctant jazz singer, and collaborated with Ellington on several pieces, such as Echoes of the Jungle (1931, Vic.), as well as with Thelonious Monk on his well-known ballad ’Round Midnight (1944).


A. Hodeir: Hommes et problèmes du jazz, suivi de la religion du jazz (Paris, 1954); Eng. trans., rev. as Jazz: its Evolution and Essence (1956/R)

H. P[anassié]: ‘Réflexions sur la récente tournée Cootie Williams, Toujours le barrage’, Bulletin du Hot Club de France, no.86 (1959), 10–12

W. Balliett: ‘Fortieth’, Such Sweet Thunder (Indianapolis, IN,1966), 98–108, esp.108

V. Wilmer: ‘Cootie Williams’, JazzM, xiii/6 (1967), 2–4 [interview]

S. Dance: The World of Duke Ellington (London, 1970/R)

E. Townley: ‘Reminiscing with Cootie: an Interview with Cootie Williams’, Storyville, no.71 (1977), 170–74

C. and J.-P. Battestini: ‘Cootie Williams parle de son grand orchestre (1942–1947)’, Bulletin du Hot Club de France, no.283 (1980), 9–11

E. Lambert: ‘Regal Cootie’, JJI, xxxiv/2 (1981), 18–19

T. Burke and D. Penny: ‘The Cootie Williams Orchestra, 1942–1950’, Blues & Rhythm: the Gospel Truth, no.3 (1984), 12

G. Schuller: The Swing Era: the Development of Jazz, 1930–1945 (New York, 1989)

M. Tucker, ed.: The Duke Ellington Reader (New York, 1993)

Oral history material in US-NEij


Williams, Edgar Warren

(b Orlando, FL, 12 June 1949). American composer, theorist and conductor. He studied composition with Iain Hamilton and Paul Earls at Duke University (BA 1971), with Wuorinen, Davidovsky and Sollberger at Columbia University (MA 1973) and with Babbitt and J.K. Randall at Princeton University (MFA 1977, PhD 1982). He also studied conducting with Allan Bone and Monod. He has taught at Princeton (1977–8), the University of California, Davis (1978–9), and the College of William and Mary (from 1979), where he conducts the college symphony orchestra. He has also guest conducted a number of contemporary music ensembles. He has received many commissions from choral groups and instrumental ensembles and has won awards from the East/West Artists and the Ensemble Intercontemporaine for Amoretti (1980).

As a composer Williams uses both ordered and unordered pitch collections to determine thematic and harmonic materials; he strives to make audible the associations between pitch and interval by means of timbral, registral, rhythmic and dynamic relationships. He has a remarkable command of instrumental resources, imaginatively deploying sonorities within individual lines (as in Amoretti) or in combinations (Across a Bridge of Dreams, 1979–80) to clarify and intensify the progressions of polyphonic voices. Since 1985 his work has reflected a concern with both the private (Piano Series, 1985–92) and public (Now Showing!, 1993) functions of music. Williams’s work as a theorist is exemplified in his book Harmony and Voice Leading (New York, 1992).


Orch: Prologue, band, 1967; Of Orpahlese, 1969 [withdrawn]; Across a Bridge of Dreams, concert band, 1979–80; Into the Dark, 18 insts, 1990; Pentimenti, 1992; Now Showing!, band, 1993

Chbr: Chbr Piece I, fl, vn, hn, pf, 1967 [withdrawn], II, fl, va, pf, 1968 [withdrawn]; Music, ob, str, perc, 1969 [withdrawn]; Visage, 2 pf, 1970; Movts, hn, 1971; Str Qt, 1971; 6 Studies, pf, 1973; Trio, tpt, hn, trbn, 1973; Variations, fl, cl, hp, perc, 1973; Fant’sy I–IV, inst ens, 1973–4; Caprice, vn, 1976; Harlequinade, vc, 1976; Amoretti, va, pf, 1980; Some Music for Merry Wives, vn, va, bn, prepared pf 4 hands, 1982; Piano, pf, 1985–92; The Objectification of Desire, snare drum, 1992; Advents/Second Coming, fl, 1994

Vocal: Missa pro defunctis, male vv, boys’ chorus ad lib, brass, pf, 1971; The Bawds of Euphony (W. Stevens), 1v, pf, 1974; The Mystic Trumpeter, chorus, orch, 1975; 2 Lyrics (J. Agee), 1v, pf, 1975; Multum in parvo, chorus, 1977; 3 Songs (M. Tongue), 1v, pf, 1978

Elec: The Hindenberg, museum installation, collab. M. Wright and P. Earls, 1968; Study, tape, 1969; Circus, tape, 1970–71; Tokyo Joe, cptr tape, 1990; Rose, cptr tape, 1992


Principal publishers: Mobart, Association for the Promotion of New Music


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