Ben Williams Blindfold Test, Live at DC JazzFest


Bassist Ben Williams (left) sits for a DownBeat Blindfold Test, conducted by Willard Jenkins, at the DC JazzFest in Washington, D.C., on June 27.

(Photo: Jati Lindsay)

A native of Washington, D.C., bassist Ben Williams took his first DownBeat Blindfold Test in front of an audience in the Education Village area of the DC JazzFest on June 17. Williams, a graduate of the city’s Duke Ellington School of the Arts, served as the festival’s first artist-in-residence. Williams premiered his new social justice opus, “I Am A Man,” with a 13-piece ensemble at the fest on June 16.

Weather Report
“Three Views Of A Secret” (Forecast Tomorrow, Sony Legacy, 2006; recorded in 1980) Joe Zawinul, keyboards; Wayne Shorter, saxophones; Jaco Pastorius, bass; Chester Thompson, drums; Alex Acuña, percussion.

That’s Jaco Pastorius, one of my biggest influences as an electric bass player. You can’t even begin to play that instrument without going through Jaco Pastorius. I’m kinda spacing on the title of that song … “Three Views Of A Secret,” which Jaco wrote. Jaco is almost like the Charlie Parker of electric bass. He’s someone who took the instrument’s possibility to an entirely different level that one can say we’re all still trying to chase.

But I don’t think we talk enough about Jaco the composer. He wrote some amazing, beautiful tunes. This song is one of those tunes I wish I had written. It’s just so perfect—classic!

Rosa Passos & Ron Carter
“Feito de Oracao” (Entrée Amigos, Chesky, 2010) Passos, vocals; Carter, bass; Lulu Galvao, guitar; Paulo Braga, percussion.

Not sure who the vocalist is, but she has that natural feel … . I love Brazilian music and how relaxing the groove is. The vocalist sounds like Camila Meza, who has a similar voice; I don’t think it is her, though I know she does a lot of Brazilian music.

The bass player reminds me of Charlie Haden; he did a couple of things I don’t think Charlie would do, but he’s playing in a really low register, as Charlie did. [after] That’s Ron? No wonder it sounds so good!

Return To Forever
“No Mystery” (The Anthology, Concord, 2008; recorded in 1975) Chick Corea, piano; Stanley Clarke, bass; Al Di Meola, guitar; Lenny White, drums.

Is that Chick? Miroslav? I know this era of Chick, but not the composition. Beautiful arco bass playing! [after a particular passage] Stanley! Yeah, Return To Forever could do this acoustic playing as well as their electric—that’s how versatile they were.

Dave Holland
“The Empty Chair (For Clare)” (Prism, Dare2, 2013) Holland, bass; Craig Taborn, keyboards; Kevin Eubanks, guitar; Eric Harland, drums.

Is that Scofield? Wow, the guitar player has a Scofield vibe. It sounds like a newer recording, something I haven’t heard yet. It’s killin’! Beautiful bass solo! [after] I love some Dave Holland!

Christian McBride Big Band
“The Shade Of The Cedar Tree” (The Good Feeling, Mack Avenue, 2011) Christian McBride Big Band.

Christian McBride Big Band! We talked about Jaco earlier … [and] Christian did the same thing with the acoustic bass, and he’s a great electric bass player as well. I remember the first time I heard McBride: It was a turning point in my life. If I’ve gotta do like that … I don’t know [laughs].

Everything is so identifiable with him in the sound. A lot of people are so wowed by his technique, but he has such a beautiful tone as well. I tell students all the time, “You get your views from the chops, but it’s the tone and the sound that makes people want to call you.” The way Christian supports the ensemble is so strong and clear.

Charles Mingus
“G.G. Train” (Mingus Ah Um, Sony Legacy, 1999; recorded in 1959) Mingus, bass; John Handy, alto saxophone; Booker Ervin, tenor saxophone; Horace Parlan, piano; Dannie Richmond, drums.

That sounds like Cannonball on the alto for a second. John Handy! [after] I’m going to have to get that. I love Mingus. He’s another one of my favorite composers. I can definitely hear his writing style in this.

I guess what threw me off is that Mingus doesn’t sound the same on each record. It’s almost as if he assumes different personalities sometimes. His writing is so Duke-ish. One of the first records that really turned me on to jazz was his Blues & Roots [1959]. Mingus has this gravitational pull that wills the ensemble to do what he wants.

Butch Warren
“A Little Chippie” (Butch’s Blues, Butch Warren, 2012) Warren, bass; Michael Thomas, trumpet; Nasar Abadey, drums; Robert Redd, piano.

I’m not quite sure who this is. It’s hard to swing quite like that at that tempo, having that sense of urgency. A lot of people really are not playing like this. It sounds so easy, but it is really hard to capture that feeling and not have it sound forced. That tempo is one of those “in the crack” tempos: It’s not slow, and not really fast, but this sounds great.

It’s definitely the bass player’s record. [after] This is Butch’s record! Talking about the lineage of great bass players in D.C., sometimes we forget about Butch Warren, maybe because he wasn’t playing for awhile when he lived here his last few years. But he’s on so many classic records. I’ve heard a ton of Butch Warren, but not as a leader. DB

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