By his late teens he had settled on clarinet, and soon afterwards formed the first of many bands he was to lead over the coming years. From 1919 to 1923 he led his own band before moving to Chicago and joining Ollie Powers. In 1923 he formed a new group in order to back the variety act Dave and Tressie and traveled to New York with them in 1924. There he led a trio in Albany as well as a band that played at the Rosemont Ballroom. In 1926 Williams formed the Royal Flush Orchestra. The popular hot jazz outfit held residency at Harlem's Savoy Ballroom for most of its life and recorded on the Victor, Vocalion, Gennett, Okeh, Brunswick, Champion, and Harmony labels.
Williams, Frank Marvin, and Perry Smith supplied vocals. The flamboyant Williams typically performed wearing a white suit and top hat. During this time he recorded many of his own compositions such as Friction, Here 'Tis and his highest selling record, Hot Town. In 1928 Williams traveled to Chicago where he temporarily fronted Dave Peyton's band at the Regal Theatre. Calling the group Fess Williams and His Joy Boys, he recorded two sides with them for Vocalion Records.
The Royal Flush Orchestra continued to operate in his absence, and in 1929 he returned to New York to resume his duties. The Royal Flush Orchestra recorded its last side in 1930. Williams remained active as a bandleader, but as the decade progressed his sound became outdated. He fell out of favor with the public and eventually retired from performing full-time to sell real estate. He continued to lead bands periodically during the 1940s and beyond. Williams played in a style reminiscent of Ted Lewis only less smoothly.
He also specialized in the style of Gas Pipe Clarinet which is when the instrument is used to produce all kinds of honks, growls, squeaks and effects that sounded like animal noises, laughter or other sounds you would not expect to hear from a clarinet. He was also a fine exponent of slap tonguing. He also had the ability to perform a circular breathing technique meaning he could hold a note indefinitely. This is shown off in his composition Playing My Saxophone. Williams came from — and fathered — a musical family; his brother Rudolph was a saxophonist and clarinetist, his sons Rudy and Phil were both saxophonists, and his daughter Estella was a pianist and vocalist.
He was also the uncle of the double bassist Charles Mingus who, in 1962 dragged Williams back into the spotlight briefly as a guest for the Town Hall concert. Read more on Last.fm. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply..
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