There is a remarkable consistency to Williams's playing. She can best be characterized as a modern traditionalist, but unlike so many pianists of this type, she has an immediately recognizable style. She lets you know that she has listened to Art Tatum, Dave Brubeck, or Oscar Peterson, but she has also absorbed techniques of stride and boogie-woogie players, developing a strong, pulsating left hand technique. She is a rhythmic player who loves to swing and avoids the cocktail-piano stylings that often mar the work of solo jazz players. Perhaps the most characteristic element in her playing is her take on the idiosyncratic style of Thelonious Monk. Most pianists who cite Monk are forced to imitate him, which is hardly jazz flattery, but Williams is one of the rare players who have internalized his ideas and transformed them in a personal manner. Her repertoire consists of standards, jazz classics, and her own compositions, including "Monk's Hat," a delicious homage to her idol.
Jessica Williams is at the Kerrytown Concert House on Friday, May 19.
[Review published May 2006]