FROM "HAPPY" WILLIAMS TO CEDAR WALTON
In the mid to late 1960s, the Troubadour café in Earl’s Court was a left-wing agit-prop gathering place with legendary home-made apple crumble.
It also had music in the basement, a lot of folk and on Sunday afternoons jazz with the Colin Bates (pianist with Bruce Turner’s Jump Band) trio and a quintet led by Lionel Grigson featuring Chris Bateson (tpt), Peter Burden or Paul Zec (alt), Lionel (p), myself or Joe Oliver (d) and John Hart or “Happy”Williams (bs).
Happy Williams was a cheerful West Indian and a fine bassist. He used to go home to his family for holidays and, one year, he stopped off at Los Angeles and became involved in the local jazz scene. He never came back to the Troubadour and had soon joined Cedar Walton’s quartet, in which he was billed as Dave or David Williams.
I next saw him with Cedar’s band at Ronnie’s with, of course, Billy Higgins on drums. I told Billy that we knew his bass player of old as “Happy”, a nickname he had never mentioned in the States. Billy thought this was hilarious and confronted Dave who revealed his Troubadour origins………… I believe he was rechristened “Happy” on the spot by the other guys.
Happy had replaced the late Sam Jones in Cedar’s group, a wonderful quartet always anchored by Billy Higgins and sometimes known as “Eastern Rebellion”. Featured tenor players started with George Coleman and went on through to Bob Berg and Cliff Jordan.
Sometimes Cedar appeared with just a trio and no horn. On one such occasion in 1988, he came to London for a week at Ronnie’s without Billy or a bass player. Instead he rang me and Ron Matthewson and asked if we would do the gig with him.
It was a most enjoyable experience, particularly to play many of his own compositions, including The Holy Land, Bolivia, Fiesta and Cedar’s blues. I remember my drum feature was on that great tune “The midnight waltz”.
The only problem was the tempos on the faster numbers.
Ron Mattewson (we had played breakneck stuff together with Tubby Hayes regularly) was never one knowingly to refuse an invitation to speed up and at that time Cedar was heavily into what Ronnie Scott used to describe as ‘the old Peruvian marching powder’.
As a result, I could not hold them back, try as I might. Nor could I fathom how Billy always, to my admiration, managed to keep Cedar on a tight rein.
After the first couple of nights, Cedar mentioned casually in the dressing room: “Spike, the tempos are going up”. All I could say was “I know!” What I really wanted to say was “What exactly do you want me to do about it?”
On the last night, we were joined by Jean Toussaint on tenor who had recently moved to England following a spell with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. We cooked up a storm on “There is no greater love”.
It was a pleasure to catch up again with Jean – still playing superbly – some 25 years or so later when we did a couple of gigs together in Brighton and Hastings…………