Claude “Fiddler” Williams
(February 22, 1908 – April 26, 2004)
In this section, you will find:
Summit ’88 Audio: Claude’s premiere as a soloist in NYC in 1988 at the Third Jazz String Summit produced by Julie Lyonn Lieberman
Audio Interview: Interview conducted in 1988 for the National Pubic Radio series, The Talking Violin, written and produced by Julie Lyonn Lieberman
Transcription of Claude’s solo on “There Will Never Be Another You” originally transcribed for a STRINGS Magazine article on Claude by Julie Lyonn Lieberman
It was Claude’s 1972 solo on “Hootie Blues” on a 1972 album with Jay McShann that inspired me to write my Blues Fiddle book back in the 1970s. I included a section on Claude in the book. He didn’t know me or understand my intentions, so our first exchange came through my publisher: a letter threatening to sue the publisher for that chapter, which was forwarded to me because I’d signed a contract saying that I was legally responsible for just this scenario. I wrote to Claude and explained why I had written about him, that a legal suit would only cost him money that he could never recoup, and didn’t hear back from him.
When I rewrote the book and changed publishers, I wrote again, asking for his permission this time to include him in the book, and he said “no.” In 1984, I presented Claude at my Third American Jazz String Summit. Before the concert, he saw a copy of the book on display in the lobby of Saint Peter’s Church. As he leafed through it, I realized that he’d never even seen the original copy — that he’d written to my publisher based on third-hand information in an effort to protect his name and music — and watched a look of sadness pass over his face as he realized that he belonged in that book. I approached him and said, “Claude, this is the book I wanted you to be in.” He replied, “Julie, you never need my permission to write about me again.” And that started a near two-decade-long friendship.
Claude turned the place upside down that night. I found name jazz violinists hiding in the dressing room afterward, each one standing in a corner with their instrument, madly trying to figure out what they had just heard. That evening I’d introduced Claude with a song I’d written for him titled “Fiddle Down” reflecting my sadness that he’d spent decades in relative obscurity; I felt that his talent deserved immense public recognition. At that time, there weren’t any albums available featuring him as a solo artist, so I released a live recording of his set at the Summit to try to turn the tide. I also worked with his manager, Russ Dantzler, and my longtime recording engineer, Scott Lehrer, to set up a series of evenings at a jazz club on the upper west side of NYC, J’s, to create a vibrant body of recordings of him.
After writing an article on Claude for STRINGS Magazine, I was instrumental in his debut on Charles Kuralt’s Sunday Morning CBS News in an interview with Billy Taylor. I could never do enough for him. Many of his admirers in the jazz violin world felt the same way, as did his longtime friend and manager, Russ Dantzler. The outpouring of articles, workshops, and concerts created on a grass-roots level by admirers such as Matt Glaser, John Blake Jr., and Mark O’Connor, testify to how deeply he was appreciated and loved.
Though I thoroughly enjoyed being his “date” at the opening party for his debut on Broadway in Black and Blue (don’t worry, his wife knew), one of my favorite jaunts with Claude was when I took him and John Blake Jr. to visit legendary jazz bassist Milt Hinton at Milt’s home. In the presence of two living legends, the four of us spent the afternoon watching Milt’s homemade movies of Joe Venuti, and looking at his photos of Eddie South, Stuff Smith, and a few obscure violinists from Chicago whose names escape me now.
Claude’s contributions to the field of jazz violin, his open door policy to younger players, and his gentle soul enriched all of our lives immeasurably in the string community and the world.
Fiddle down that long sweet road now. Fiddle down 90 years or more now.
Fiddle down that lonesome road, but here we are to hear you play.
Fiddle down from your soul now. Fiddle Down to make us whole now.
Fiddle down, we love you so, that here we are to hear you play! Fiddle Down
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This transcription of Claude’s solo on “There Will Never Be Another You” was published with my article on Claude for STRINGS Magazine in the early 1990’s.