Art and jazz. For baby boomers and many others they’re synonymous with the changes that transformed twentieth century Western culture.
For much of that time, saxophonist Irv Williams captured those changes in his music. Unlike the previous century, however, Williams’ music has not ended. Nor has his productivity. In celebration of his new CD, “Then Was Then, Now is Now,” and his 95th birthday, The Museum of Russian Art will host a concert from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. on Saturday, July 26, 2014.
The concert marks Mr. Williams’ second appearance in the Museum’s “Jazz at TMORA” series. Like the inaugural event in February, Williams will be accompanied by guitarist Steve Blons and bassist Billy Peterson. All three men have deep Twin Cities connections and international standings on the world jazz scene.
Where many performers’ energies and creativity dwindle over time, Williams’ has increased. His new CD is his seventh since the year 2000. Dubbed “Mr. Smooth” by the “Star Tribune,” his latest release continues his lifelong exploration of The Great American Songbook and of the tenor sax as a solo vehicle. As Matt Peiken remarked in the “St. Paul Pioneer Press,” “Irv Williams has always been about sweetness not power, and he’s still gigging strong.”
In a 2005 MPR interview Williams remarked that his brand of mellow, straight-ahead jazz results from playing for people, not musicians. He eschews the dissonant experimentalism that captivates many young performers in favor of leaving his listeners humming. “We get a lot of requests [because] I know so many tunes, you know?” But it’s not so much his encyclopedic knowledge of jazz so much as his “different way of phrasing. I just use a lot of air and don’t breathe as much as other guys do.”
Minneapolis jazz critic Tom Surowicz goes even further. “He’s smooth, strong, breathy, he’s got that beautiful tone. Especially on ballads.” Williams’ technique along with his willingness to record and perform new tunes with adventurous musicians like Blons and Peterson gives jazz aficionados in Minnesota and elsewhere a chance to hear a fresh, regenerative, and unbeatable musical artistry.
Sponsored by ReMax Results, Wells Pianos, and Record Now, TMORA’s concert represents a classical art form triumphing over the passage of time. Nine years ago Williams felt he still had 15 CDs left in him though he was suffering from prostate cancer. Almost a decade later he’s a third of the way to his goal and going strong. Anyone who thinks classic jazz is dead in this country should go to TMORA two weeks from Saturday and hear Williams play.