10 Fingers: Ben Williams

by Ella Campbell

Lately, I have been terrible about asking ten questions to musicians. Somehow I only get around to asking about 7 or 8, so here we have 10-Fingers-Minus-3 with Ben Williams. (when I typed ‘minus’ just now, I accidentally wrote ‘mingus.’ bass must be on the mind. #jazzgirltypos).

He and I played phone tag for a day at the Detroit Jazz Festival and then after watching Wayne Shorter perform at the end of the day, we got the chance to speak.

Mr. Williams is currently touring with Pat Metheny, and has performed on many-a-musicians’ albums as a sideman. (Stefon Harris & Blackout [check out our interview with Casey Benjamin, another member of Blackout], Terrell Stafford, Marcus Strickland [check out our interview here] and more). He also has an album as a leader, State of Art, released in 2011. In 2009 he won the Monk competition.

1. What music do you listen to when you’re in a reflective or contemplative mood?

“Maybe like Marvin Gaye or classical music. Dvorak is my favorite composer.”

2. What is your favorite basement music?

“Nobody has a basement in New York.”

I roll my eyes. Well I don’t mean, literally in a basement. If you’re just hanging out with people, what are you listening to?

“Yo are you hip to this singer named Emily King?”

I thought I was the one asking the questions? Yeah, I’ve heard her.

“Yeah I fuckin’ love Emily King.”

cue: Ben playing the song Down from his iPad.

“It’s weird because I’ve known her for a few years, and I wasn’t really hip to her music until a few months ago, and now I just can’t stop listening to her.”

3. What song did you have stuck in your head today?

“I know I had a song stuck in my head, I have one stuck in my head all the time. Well, actually, it’s usually in the morning and then it kinda goes away. This is a little embarrassing, but I had a Whitney Houston song stuck in my head.”
*pauses music to remember*
“I had, this Whitney Houston song, stuck in my head!”
*continues not remembering*
“Um. Run To You! It’s a little strange for a jazz bassist.”

Oh don’t worry, Jason Moran’s dance music was Azaelia Banks.

“I guess we’re an eclectic bunch.”

4. What was a profound moment you had while taking lessons?

“Um, well, actually okay. One thing I do remember, and this is a quote from Rodney, that I think is a quote from one of his teachers. He said, and this is regarding teaching and passing on information, ‘the information that you know does not belong to you,’ and it’s your responsibility to pass it on. It was from an interview that he did, and someone asked him why he teaches. I think it’s awesome, and I always remembered that.”

*The music changes to No More Room* [Remember we mentioned this song in Burniss Earl Travis’s article?]

Have you taught?

“Yeah, did you know I was actually a music education major at Michigan State? My last semester I was a student teacher.”

5. What was your most profound moment as a teacher?

“I don’t know if I had one profound moment, but teaching is… I guess any time a student just gets it and they go ‘oh! ah ha!’ That moment… I don’t know if profound is the word, but it means something to me.”

6. Name some musicians you want to see perform live.

“Well, most of them are dead because most of the people that I’ve wanted to see, that are alive, I’ve seen.” He paused. “Well, they’re all gonna be dead. Okay.
John Coltrane.
Freddie Hubbard.
Michael Jackson.

*song changes to Ever After*

“Umm…. Ray Brown. I never saw Ray Brown.
And Jaco.”

7. Ben and I began talking about standards, and I came up with a very patched, awkward and un-eloquent way of asking him about them:

“I think standards are standards because they are good songs. I don’t think anyone plays them just because they’re old, or by a certain composer; it’s because they still sound good, and you can still play them today and they sound good. I would say this, I feel that we need to keep creating standards. I think it’s a really important issue. The American Songbook is basically where we get all of our standards from, but it should be like an open book instead of a closed book. Where we can keep adding shit to it, not ‘this is what it is, and this is what it’s always going to be.’ I think about it a lot, and I’ve had to talk about it a lot, and I try to think about it in different ways. Actually, part of my thing, part of my goal with my music, is to try to add some repertoire to the ‘American Songbook.’”

. fin .

Until next time,
Swing sisters, swing!
– La


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