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Claude Williams
(right, with John Intrator)

Claude Williams (February 22,1908 - April 26, 2004) was born in Muskogee, Oklahoma. By the age of 10 Claude was already playing professional guitar, mandolin, banjo and ‘cello! After hearing the great jazz violinist Joe Venuti in concert, Claude decided to learn violin as well.

Claude moved to Kansas City in 1928, where he began touring with one of the leading bands of the era: Andy Kirk and the Twelve Clouds of Joy.While in Kansas City Claude also met Count Basie, who asked Claude to join his band. Claude was Basie’s first guitarist, as well as a violinist whose solos were highly regarded by his peers—including the great tenor saxophonist Lester Young. While on tour he and Lester Young often chose to room together, jamming together after gigs into the wee hours...This period was brought to a close by the impressario John Hammond, who restructured Basie’s group. Claude was one of the musicians who was let go; he was replaced by a musician who played only guitar, and just rhythm at that: Freddy Green.

Claude went back to Kansas City, where he formed his own group, playing over the decades with musicans such as Jay McShann, Oscar Pettiford, Buddy Tate and Don Byas, and mentoring young musicians, including a certain Charlie Parker...

Claude returned to national prominence only in the 1980s, with recordings, festivals both in the USA and abroad, as well as the prestigious National Heritage Fellowship Award, which he received at the White House in 1998. Claude passed away in Kansas City in 2004, at the age of 96.


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