Tony Williams had the kind of career most other drummers can only dream about — studying with legendary teacher Alan Dawson at age 11, getting tutored by jazz giant Sam Rivers in his early teens, and playing with saxophonist Jackie McLean at 17. Williams joined Miles Davis' band in 1962, where he became a powerful anchor for the legendary group of Herbie Hancock (piano), Ron Carter (bass), and Wayne Shorter (saxophone). Williams was the zenith of jazz drumming — his ride-cymbal work was better than anyone’s, but he went beyond the drummer’s role in swing and bebop, transcending and implying time, creating just enough foundation for the band to soar. His talent influenced Davis’ direction in the ’60s, culminating in the dreamy fusion of the seminal In A Silent Way.
In the late ’60s and ’70s Williams led the birth of fusion on albums like Emergency with his group Lifetime. In the ’80s and ’90s he focused on composing, leading his own quintet with trumpeter Wallace Roney.
Williams died prematurely from complications of gall bladder surgery in 1997 at the age of 51, decades before his prodigious creativity would have been spent. His last album was aptly titled Young At Heart.