Tony Williams: The Most Influential Drummer of our era.


Tony Williams is responsible of the modern jazz and fusion drumming style today. His DNA can be found in almost any drummer who likes creativity. He played stuff when he was 17 years old that people in their 60's today is still trying to figure out.

His playing can be described as powerful, provocative, edgy, defined, articulated, clear and confident. He quoted once during a clinic in 1985 that Miles Davis trusted him so much and let him be as creative as he wanted, that helped him to be super confident in his playing.

I decided to do a research on his playing style and some of the people that he has influenced. I found so much but I still feel that I just touched the surface of a very deep topic.

Short Bio.

Williams was born in Chicago and grew up in Boston. He was of African, Portuguese, and Chinese descent. He began studies with drummer Alan Dawson at an early age, and began playing professionally at the age of 13 with saxophonist Sam Rivers. Saxophonist Jackie McLean hired Williams at 16. At 17 Williams found considerable fame with Miles Davis, joining a group that was later dubbed Davis's Second Great Quintet. Tony Williams was a vital element of the group, called by Davis in his autobiography "...the center that the group's sound revolved around." His inventive playing helped redefine the role of jazz rhythm section through the use of polyrhythms and metric modulation (transitioning between mathematically related tempos and/or time signatures). Williams was an integral participant in the early-mid 60's avant-garde movement, playing on such classics as Jackie McLean's One Step Beyond, Grachan Moncur III's Evolution and Some Other Stuff, Sam River's Fuchsia Swing Song, Andrew Hill's Point of Departure, and Eric Dolphy's Out to Lunch. His first album as a leader, Life Time, was also in the avant-garde vein. Many of these progressive albums are considered amongst the greatest jazz recordings of all time.

Bio Source:

Some Great Drummers of Today's scene influenced by Tony Willliams.

VINNIE COLAIUTA. (Herbie Hancock, Sting)

"Tony Williams represented so many things to me. Rebelliousness. A complete iconoclast. I thought it was absolutely brilliant the way he would choose to describe musical events on the drumset as a result of improvisational dialogue between himself and another player. That really had a big impact on me."

Source: Percussive Notes, Feb 1995, The Official Journal for The Percussive Arts Society, by Rick Mattingly

"Seeing advanced concepts with big bands like Don Ellis' at a high school concert was a big turning point for me. And then the high-school jazz band I was in went to one of those tri-state gatherings, and I met with a young drummer in one of the other bands and struck up a conversation with him. He asked me who my favorite drummer was. I said "Buddy Rich"."

And I said, "How about you? Who's your favorite drummer?" He said, "Tony Williams." And I didn't know who Tony Williams was, so the next day I went to a record store, and on the wall was this Tony Williams record called Ego. So I bought it and took it home and put it on my turntable.

The music of Tony Williams was a huge departure from anything that Colaiuta had previously been exposed to.

"I listened to this, and it was like someone has just started speaking Greek. I was confused, because viscerally I knew there was something there that was huge, but I just couldn't get it. And so the next day I put the record on again, and it was one of those anvil-hitting-you-on-the-head moments, like a flash of light, and the skies opened and the whole bit. I got it."

On his second listen to Ego, Colaiuta was transfixed, literally.

"I could not believe what I was hearing."

Source: DRUM! May 2014, "King of Styles" 10 Ways To Master Multiple Drumming Styles by John Payne.

CINDY BLACKMAN. (Carlos Santana, Lenny Kravitz)

For Cindy Blackman, Tony Williams was an early influence. "The first drummer I ever saw, where I got to feel the impact up close, was Tony Williams", Blackman said. "When I was 16, Tony came to my local drum store with a bassist and did a drum clinic that left a powerful impression on me. And that's what I thought drumming should be: drummers should have a lot of impact and a great sound, without being limited to a conventional role in the band—the drums should speak just as freely as anybody." Blackman says that the way that Williams used all four limbs to attack the drums strongly influenced her. "I just love and loved everything about Tony", says Blackman. "To me, not only was he a master technician, a master drummer, the innovator of the age, but also, he was a sound innovator. He had so many things that elevated the sound and the level of skill required to play this kind of music." But although Blackman is sometimes referred to as a disciple of Tony Williams, she follows her own path. "On the one hand, it doesn't bother me at all to be associated and in line with a master of the instrument like that – Okay, I might not be where I want to be, but I'm on the right track", says Blackman. "On the other hand, I don't plan on being a clone. What I'm doing is always looking to expound on something that he's done, or push the music in a different way".

Blackman moved to Boston to study at the Berklee College Of Music with Alan Dawson one of Tony Williams' teachers. "Alan's method was incredible in terms of getting your independence together, getting your hands together". says Blackman.

Source: Cindy Blackman bio.

A great article where Cindy Blackman talks about her Tribute to Tony Williams:

TERRI LYNE CARRINGTON (Herbie Hancock, Al Jarreu, Wayne Shorter)

“Tony Williams Style of playing was something else. His ride cymbal beat defined the way of playing that most of us have today. He was also a pioneer in the jazz fusion movement. I was very fortunate to meet him.”

Source: During a private lesson, myself with Terri Lyne.

Back in 2015 Terri participated on a Concert Tribute to Tony Williams “Life Time” with the HR Big Band in Germany. Here’s a clip from that concert.


Here are 2 interesting clips where the great Drummer Jojo Mayer shares some of his opinions about Tony.

Other Musicians Quotes About Tony's Playing.....

JOHN PATITUCCI (Chick Corea, Wayne Shorter)

“ I was fortunate to have met Tony Williams. He recommended me for several important gigs. The moment I listened to his studio recordings with The Miles Davis Quintet in the 60’s, that moment my life changed. Those recordings had a HUGE Influence on my playing until today.”

Source: During a Private Lesson that I had with John at The Berklee Global Jazz Institute I asked him about Tony.

RALPH ROSEN (Bruce Katz, Berklee College of Music Library)

“It was 1968 and I was just a Junior in High School. My parents took me to Lennie’s, a Jazz Club located on Rt. 1 in Peabody, about 10 miles north of Boston, The Miles Davis Quintet was about to play that night. It was probably one of the last concerts before that band split. I was very close to the stage, they opened with “Agitation”, I have never seen Tony live before, It changed my life forever. The moment he got on those drums everything changed. He was the loudest, it was a “Tony” night. Miles let him do ANYTHING on the Drums. After that night I knew that I wanted to play drums forever”.

Source: A brief interview that I had with Ralph, I work in the same department that he works at Berklee.


- Tony Williams: "The Game Changer". Modern Drummer Magazine Article. By Kevin Kearns. August 11, 2011.

This article is an interview to the Living Colour drummer Will Calhoun where he shares his stories about Tony Williams and his influences.

- 100 Greatest Drummers of All Time. By Christopher R. Weingarten, Jon Dolan, Matt Diehl,Ken Micallef, David Ma, Gareth Dylan Smith, Oliver Wang, Jason Heller, Jordan Runtagh, Hank Shteamer,Steve Smith, Brittany Spanos, Kory Grow, Rob Kemp,Keith Harris, Richard Gehr, Jon Wiederhorn, Maura Johnston, Andy Greene. March 31st 2016.

- Tony Willams: "Memories of a Drum Genius". Drum By Andy Doerschuk. December 12, 2012.

This article is important to me because I found some great quotes at the end of the story, handwritten by some of the greatest musicians in the world who shared the stage with Tony.


Tony Williams Solo with Miles Davis Quintet

Tony Williams Solo "The Comes a Time"

Tony Williams Drum Solo Miles Davis Quintet "Agitation"

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