Ben Williams

Exploring the Term Black American Music

Black American Music.

As with the phrase “Black Lives Matter,” this simple statement of fact interjects clarity and controversy into conversations about improvisational music. For many it’s a righteous claim to the world-class contributions Black Americans have made towards every major musical tradition in the US and beyond. For others it’s a confusing affront to the word “Jazz,” an enduring label with a curious and complicated history.

Almost every American musical river leads to the oceanic influence of Black sonic traditions. From spirituals, gospel, ragtime, blues, and R&B, to rock, country, soul, funk, Jazz and hip hop, American music has consistently utilized the experienced of Blackness as it’s creative north star. Accepting and honoring that experience remains a work in progress. Now society’s culture wars include camps that embrace and struggle with this phrase and all it’s ramifications.

Bassist Ben Williams has spent his entire career steeped in Black American Music. Born and raised in Washington, D.C., Williams heard first hand the remarkable level of ingenuity and innovation within a city known for minting Black musical pioneers. In time Williams was playing in a wide variety of styles that fortified his musical foundation, unique vision, and fundamental respect for Black music.

Touring with Pat Metheny, George Benson, Stefon Harris, David Sanborn, Lauryn Hill, Wynton Marsalis, Robert Glasper, Maxwell, and Nicholas Payton, Williams has experienced the sophisticated concentric circles of genres that have informed his own critically acclaimed work. His 2020 album I Am a Man celebrated Black American Music, combining various aspects of Black American Music while revisiting the spiritual foundation of the Civil Rights Moment.

After he posted “Black American Music” on Twitter several months ago, I reached out to Williams inviting him to create a playlist of music that reflected his personal understanding of the term, while speaking to his personal, musical, cultural and political understanding of the term.

Musician / Band
Nicholas Payton
Ben Williams
Duke Ellington
Charlie Parker
Miles Davis
Herbie Hancock
Ray Charles
Aretha Franklin
Marvin Gaye
Michael Jackson
Max Roach
James Brown
Prince & The Revolution
Big Daddy Kane
The Notorious B.I.G.
Kendrick Lamar
Ben Williams

Jazz is a Four-Letter Word 
Black Villain Music
Jack the Bear
Now's The Time
So What
Actual Proof
What'd I Say, Pt. 1
Day Dreaming
I Want You (Vocal)
Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'
The Drum Also Waltzes
Soul Power
The Beautiful Ones
Chicken Grease
Smooth Operator
King Kunta
We Shall Overcome

Afro-Caribbean Mixtape
Coming Of Age
Never No Lament
Complete Savoy & Dial Master Takes
Kind of Blue
What'd I Say
Young, Gifted and Black
I Want You
Drums Unlimited
Funk Power 1970: A Brand New Thang
Mothership Connection
Purple Rain
It's a Big Daddy Thing
Greatest Hits
Speakerboxxx/The Love Below
To Pimp a Butterfly
I Am a Man

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