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Havin A Good Time! by Joe Williams

With the release of Havin’ A Good Time! Joel Dorn is back doing what he does better than anyone else: producing commercial releases of historic jazz sessions that someone somewhere had the foresight to tape-record. Now that Dorn is releasing fewer of these releases of privately recorded gems than he did during his Label M days, the anticipation of such CD’s he produces is even greater. Dorn’s reputation for these kinds of undertakings has risen to the level that he’s the first person that archivists or even someone with a drawer full of old jazz tapes call when they realize that value of what’s in their collection. And so it went with the process of bringing Havin’ A Good Time! to the availability of jazz enthusiasts worldwide. As Monk Rowe, the Joe Williams Director of the Hamilton College (New York) Jazz Archive, noticed, Joel Dorn jumped out of his chair when he realized that Williams’s widow had donated a significant cache of reel-to-reel tapes for safekeeping, and for posterity’s enjoyment. Dorn couldn’t help himself: He had to release Joe Williams’ Havin’ A Good Time! on his Hyena Records label.

The gem that ejected Dorn from his chair was special because it documents one session of Williams’s weeklong gig in 1964 at Pio’s in Providence, Rhode Island. The serendipity that vastly increased the value of the recording was that, when Williams and his trio walked into the club, there sat Ben Webster, asking if he could sit in. (Unexplained is what brought Webster to Providence that week.) Could they say no? No. So, now we have a recording that captures all of the ambiance of a sparsely populated club, non-grand piano available for accompaniment and drink glasses chinking and smatterings of mannered applause showing appreciation for Williams’s appearance on the night of a blizzard. Havin’ A Good Time! also captures the off-handedness of the unplanned inclusion of a legend of the tenor saxophone working as a gratefully accepted sideman unexpectedly, Webster taking his own solos and contributing background harmony while Williams sings.

The rhythm section itself didn’t contain any slackers either, with Junior Mance, Bob Cranshaw and Mickey Roker showing up for the engagement. Even from the sound of Havin’ A Good Time, upgraded sonically as much as possible by engineering wizard Gene Paul, it’s obvious that this was no studio recording. The rawness, the spontaneity, the patter and the spur-of-the-moment response to audience interaction are all there. And so it is telling, for Williams, the consummate jazz singer, is presented in the environment upon which he had built his much of his career inside the nightclub.

Williams opens that unforgettable night of the benefit of the few who showed up with the blues swing of "Just A Sittin’ And A Rockin’" and moves into yet another blues, "Kansas City Blues," this one featuring more of Mance and Webster. The concert changes mood with "That’s All," a song that Williams was reluctant to sing because he didn’t know one line of the lyrics. But he explained that he felt that the mood of the song was appropriate for the listeners who braved the snow to come hear a brilliant night of music. And then Williams, the consummate professional, as were the rest of the musicians with him, delivered a memorable performance throughout the rest of the evening, as powerful in its own way as if the singer had sung in an auditorium of 2,000 ticket holders.

As with all of Dorn’s releases, the liner notes for Havin’ A Good Time! contain his pertinent anecdotes of experiences with the artist whose recording is released, as well as his one-of-a-kind, off-the-wall humorously informal style of writing liner notes, adding a personal and affectionate touch to the recordings he produces.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Joe Williams
  • CD Title: Havin A Good Time!
  • Genre: Jazz Vocals
  • Year Released: 2005
  • Record Label: Hyena Records
  • Tracks: Just A Sittin’ And A Rockin’, Kansas City Blues, By The River St. Marie, That’s All, Alone Together, I’m Through With Love, The Great City, A Hundred Years From Today, Ain’t Misbehavin’, Honeysuckle Rose, Alright OK You Win, Have A Good Time, Band Intro And Goodbye
  • Musicians: Joe Williams (vocals); Ben Webster (tenor saxophone); Junior Mance (piano); Bob Cranshaw (bass); Mickey Roker (drums)
  • Rating: Three Stars
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