Although she's been considered a significant presence on the jazz scene for decades, Jessica Williams doesn't enjoy the name recognition she deserves. Following years spent playing piano with the Philly Joe Jones Quartet and sharing stages with such luminaries as Bill Evans, Art Blakey, Dexter Gordon, Sarah Vaughn, McCoy Tyner and a host of others, not to mention her extensive discography, Williams remains largely under-recognized outside of critics and rabid fans of classic bop-influenced keyboard work.
With chops that invoke the playing of Thelonious Monk and an incredible command of the keyboard, Williams based herself in San Francisco in the late '70s, where she established herself as a powerful musical force. Inexplicably, she disappeared from record for a short time, only to re-emerge in the '80s as an acoustic soloist. And while generally identified within the bop idiom, Williams' latest album, the demure, hauntingly lovely Plays for Lovers (Red and Blue Records), is a quiet tribute to relaxing at home either with a lover or with a lover on the mind. Nine of the album's 11 tracks are jazz standards (the exceptions are John Lennon's "Love is Real" and her own "Flamenco Sketches), and all of them feature Williams alone at her piano, performing the music as though she were at home.
"I just wanted to play and make myself feel warm and alive and whole," she says. Interestingly enough, those are three sensations you're guaranteed to have each time you listen to Plays for Lovers. Given her penchant for sprightly interpretations of everything from obscure Dave Brubeck numbers to the most serious and complex Monk compositions, Plays for Lovers is wonderfully understated—testament to self-control and egolessness. Indeed, says Williams, "While technique is fundamental and is necessary for the execution of any music or art, it is not everything; it is not the ends, only the means. I wanted to let go of that great need to compete, to be thought of as a ’great' player. Through her letting go, we're blessed with a record that's expressive and virtually flawless.