In this month’s Jazz Drummer’s Workshop, the Brooklyn-based drummer and educator Mike Alfieri demonstrates ways to develop unique ride patterns inspired by the jazz great Tony Williams. To coincide with the piece, we asked our readers and social media followers to name one album that Williams played on that best sums up his enduring drumming. MD cover artist and jazz ambassador Matt Wilson weighed in with Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch! while the studio legend and MD Readers Poll Hall of Famer Vinnie Colaiuta offered Miles Davis’s Nefertiti as one pick. Here are some more responses.
One of my favorites is the Miles Davis record Filles de Kilimanjaro . It was a transitional album for Davis and jazz in general, and Tony’s playing changed, too. The rock music of the day had a big effect on them, and this was the last record before Miles changed his sound completely again and Tony went on to form his own band, the Tony Williams Lifetime. Davis and Williams did do one more record together after this, In a Silent Way, which is also one of my favorites. And it’s hard not to mention Nefertiti, Miles Smiles, and all of the Davis records that Williams played on during that era. Those albums changed the world of drumming forever in a few years.
I can’t pick just one, as Tony reinvented himself multiple times. But I do have three favorites from different eras. From Tony’s early career, I’d pick Miles Davis’s Four & More. From his middle era, it’d be the Tony Williams Lifetime’s Believe It. And from the later part of Tony’s career, it’d be his solo record Foreign Intrigue.
If I had to pick just one, though, it’d be Foreign Intrigue. He boldly incorporates electronic drums into a straight-ahead context. The title track opens with a 12/8 Afro-Cuban–esque jazz groove where Tony is playing Simmons toms along with his acoustic kit, and then electronic claps enter via a drum machine. It’s totally badass and forward-thinking.
Foreign Intrigue was from Tony’s later career, where he was playing straight- ahead jazz on bigger, rock-sized drums, so the electronic sounds sit well with the sound of his larger acoustic kit. I’ve always been into blending acoustic and electronic drums, so I loved this album when it came out, and I still love it!
As unfair as it would be to only choose one, I’d have to pick Nefertiti. The way Williams’ cymbals sound, the way the drums are tuned, and his fiery, impressionistic playing would become the catalyst for modern drumming.
Turn It Over by the Tony Williams Lifetime is my favorite by Williams. I’m so drawn to the eerie, stripped down tunes that are almost out of left field when compared to much of his other work.
For me it’s a toss-up between Miles Davis’s Filles de Kilimanjaro and Ego by the Tony Williams Lifetime. Both albums demonstrate the power, finesse, and rhythmic mastery that would eventually place Williams in the vanguard of modern drumming. Williams was truly a drummer supreme.
It’s impossible to capture his breadth in one record, and lots of my favorites have already been mentioned, so I’ll give a nod to Williams’ love for the avant-garde: Sam Rivers’ Fuchsia Swing Song easily features some of Tony’s deepest playing on record.
Miles Smiles changed my life. Tony was twenty years old when he recorded it, and it completely changed how I thought a drummer could interpret jazz. I can’t imagine if he knew how revolutionary his playing was at the time.
Tyler Jackson Miller
Nefertiti by Miles Davis. Williams was on fire on that one! I love how he develops the ride cymbal pattern, and I love his creativity and energy. It’s one of my all-time favorite Miles Davis albums.
In the Contents page of the December issue, the Cover and Contents photos should have been credited to Alex Solca.