Audio, photos, transcriptions, interviews, and more…

Claude "Fiddler" Williams

Photo taken at Julie Lyonn Lieberman’s FIRST AMERICAN JAZZ STRING SUMMIT in 1984

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.

Summit ’88 Audio

Interview Material from 1995

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Joe Kennedy, Jr.Joe Kennedy, Jr. Tribute

(b.1923 – d.2004)
November 21st, 1995 interview Julie conducted for the National Public Radio series Jazz Profiles: Jazz Violin, a two-part series (produced by Steve Rathe, Murray Street Enterprise)

Topic: The Four Strings and Historic Jazz Violinists

“Jazz history during the decade of the forties was very interesting. We had a portion of the big band era still represented, plus the indentation of WW2 was also prevalent and the latter forties presented the emphasis on the beginning stages of the be-bop era.

I’m from Pittsburg, PA, and during the latter forties I formed a group that was called The Four Strings. In this group we had Ray Crawford on guitar, Edgar Willis on bass, Sam Johnson on piano, later replaced by Ahmad Jamal, I was leader and took care of the arranging chores and played violin. During the bebop era itself there weren’t too many things that included jazz violin, but the repertoire of The Four Strings did. That’s why, to me, this was very, very important. Mary Lou Williams was responsible for our recording opportunities during this time. We recorded an album entitled Trends and this was very unusual. Mary Lou liked the group very much and did many things to help us.

I’m always so impressed with the work that some of our historical jazz violinists have done. Stuff Smith, Joe Venuti, Eddie South, Stephane Grappelli. I had the pleasure of appearing with Stephane Grappelli on a concert we both did back in ’82. It was a concert that was held at Wolftrap and it was termed the International Jazz Festival: Jazz violinists. This man is still amazing as far as technique, as far as creativity is concerned. I never had the good fortune to play with Stuff Smith, or Joe Venuti or Eddie South. But I did quite a bit of playing with Claude Williams. Claude and I did the Monterey Jazz Festival together back in ’86. We also did something that was very, very memorable. We did a film together in ’88 in England. It was entitled Fiddler Three and it profiled Claude’s career and my career, so that was tremendous as far as the interplay and the ideas that we had a chance to express together. So historical violinists, we certainly wouldn’t know how to do without them because they have influenced our life, our way of thinking, and the more respect and acknowledgement that we give them, the better.

Some people may wonder how jazz violin is different from classical violin as far as orchestra is concerned and my observation would be that when you are a classical violinist, you play specifically what the printed page indicates. When you are a jazz violinist, you create what you have to say. And in reality I have always felt very good in saying that a whole note composed by Beethoven is tremendously important and a whole note composed by Duke Ellington is tremendously important. The two are wonderful.”

Joe Kennedy, Jr.

A Slice of History: Joe talks about historic jazz violinists, his early days playing bebop, and more.

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