There’s much lip service in current popular culture regarding “staying in the moment” and mindfulness. For musician Jamison Williams, the idea of “now” isn’t a brand or hashtag; it’s the fuel that drives his creative life.
The Riverside-based multi-instrumentalist is a well-established player devoted to the realm of improvisational music. In the 1960s, American musicians like John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, and Sun Ra rebelled against traditional jazz forms. Instead of relying on standards or playing chord changes, these artists focused on composing on the spot, listening intently to one another as they delved deep into improvisational playing, forging a new form of music out of what had been considered jazz. Sometimes mellow, usually loud, always intense, free jazz is a music that demands your attention. In the decades since its inception, “free jazz” is commonly called improvisational music; or just “improv.”
Growing up in Arlington, Williams was a full-on punk rock kid who played the drums. “If you listen to the core element of all music, it’s always the drums,” says Williams, citing legendary swing drummer Buddy Rich as a one-time influence; for him equal to Black Flag. But when he was 18, Williams heard the seminal 1968 free jazz assault of Peter Brötzmann’s “Machine Gun.” Williams went “all in” and has never looked back.
“Free jazz and hardcore are the exact same language,” says Williams. “It’s just two different people speaking it.”
Soon after Williams had his mind blown by that initial free jazz blast, he snapped the drum sticks and picked up the alto saxophone. He advanced quickly on the instrument, taking private lessons, where he mastered more traditional styles like bebop. But key to Williams’ development to any instrument, whether it be alto, soprano saxophone, or his current weapon of choice, the trumpet, is the discipline of practice. By his own estimation, he practices six hours a day, wrapping the trumpet with a scarf to mute the sound. “Some people go to the sketch book or write things out,” he explains. “Practicing is my core.”
In many ways, Williams’s music is relational, in that he’s discovering–and then closing–sonic gaps that many overlook, or lack the savviness to even hear. “For me, Greg Ginn [guitarist of Black Flag] is a total free jazz player,” he says, pointing to Ginn’s unpredictable riffing and gnarly distorted tone. “Just that total intensity.”
In performance, Williams is intense to the point of brutality. All Western music is based on fundamentals; essentially “recognized” notes and tones. Williams is a master of using multiphonics, an incredibly-difficult technique where one pushes the horn to its limit, beyond those fundamentals, creating unorthodox sounds and effects. Akin to Hendrix conjuring up and controlling walls of feedback out of his guitar and amp, multiphonics help Williams “dig” deep into the limitations of his instrument, forging some seriously high-energy music.
While Williams performs in a musical scene that the uninitiated might find intimidating, his DIY punk ground his message.
“I always kind of source the description [of what I play] as ‘structured nostalgia,’” says Williams. “It’s something I learned and developed.”
Nostalgic or not, Williams is also forward-thinking and prolific. On his Vantage Point imprint, he estimates that he’s released some 50 CDs, cassettes, lathe cut records; even books. For a music that can seem abrasive, if not alienating, key to the improv scene’s survival has been its close-knit and encouraging community. Not unlike the punk scene, shows are self promoted and albums are self released; and no one’s getting rich.
In 2012, Williams operated his +SoLo space in downtown Jacksonville, where he hosted numerous improv, free jazz performances. When that venture folded, he simply moved his next project, the [neu]Sonics initiative, to the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum in Springfield. Offering workshops on improv and group jam sessions, [neu]Sonics also hosted a bevy of killer, legendary players–including Williams original sax hero: Peter Brötzmann. Until recently, he was using the Second Floor Gallery in Riverside as a base of operations.
A restless musician, Williams has performed all over the US and Europe; at press time, he’ll be on a three-month excursion in Mexico. He’s an accomplish player on three not-easy-to-play instruments, and continues to pump out music at a dizzying rate. Like his punk heroes before him; he gets bored. And like his free jazz heroes, he puts that boredom into action.
“You know how you’re running and you develop a cramp? Technically you’re developing that muscle,” he says, laughing. “But after a while I get bored of running so I want to go study brain surgery.”