When the Chicago Reader declared in 1997 that audiences “gained’t discover a busier saxophonist in Chicago than Mars Williams,” extra evergreen phrases have been scarcely written.
Even in his 60s, Williams remained an omnipresent, indefatigable musical presence on this metropolis and past. His live-wire sax sound expanded to fill the area it was in, whether or not a DIY hole-in-the-wall or a teeming enviornment live performance with the Psychedelic Furs, with whom he toured as just lately as final month.
“I don’t know anybody else who’s capable of go one evening from enjoying a rock live performance in entrance of 5,000 individuals to enjoying on the Beat Kitchen in entrance of 10, and taking each contexts completely severely,” saxophonist Dave Rempis advised the Tribune just lately. “It’s not even uncommon; it’s remarkable to maneuver forwards and backwards between all of the worlds that he does.”
Williams died Nov. 20 from ampullary most cancers, a uncommon most cancers affecting the world across the small gut, after being recognized nearly a yr in the past. He was 68. His loss of life was confirmed to the Tribune by his brother Paul Williams.
Considered one of six youngsters, Williams was born in Elmhurst on Might 29, 1955, and grew up in close by Franklin Park. Then “Marc,” Williams was a star clarinetist in his faculty music program. However a summer time spent enjoying in a canopy band put him off the classical coaching he’d dedicated to at DePaul College. As a substitute, he immersed himself within the far-out sounds of the Affiliation for the Development of Inventive Musicians, the seminal South Aspect musical collective, and finally counted two of its members — Anthony Braxton and Roscoe Mitchell — as mentors.
After a formative jaunt out west to Colorado, Williams made his approach to New York Metropolis within the late Nineteen Seventies, getting cash as a motorcycle messenger and attempting to interrupt into the dwell music scene. By then, Williams glided by “Mars,” impressed by his child brother’s makes an attempt to pronounce his title. There, he met his heroes Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry and caught the ear of downtown luminaries like John Zorn.
“Mars Williams is likely one of the true saxophone gamers — somebody who takes pleasure within the sheer act of blowing the horn and there will not be many saxophone gamers I can in truth say this about,” Zorn wrote within the liner notes to “Eftsoons,” Williams’ 1984 duo album with multi-instrumentalist Hal Russell.
Williams additionally kick-started his parallel profession within the rock world in New York, enjoying punk exhibits on the music membership CBGB and choosing up gigs by word-of-mouth. That path finally led him to the Psychedelic Furs, turning into the band’s longest-serving member after founders Richard and Tim Butler. He performed with the Furs from 1983 to 1989, then once more from 2005 to the current.
Guitarist Wealthy Good, who joined the Furs within the aughts, praised Williams’ subtly radical twists on acquainted solos, even on songs he didn’t document with the band.
“He by no means steps away from what the theme of the tune is, however he transcends it, takes it to the subsequent degree,” Good says. “The viewers is type of gobsmacked once they see these items occur.”
As is the sideman’s lot, Williams was by no means a family title, although lots of the acts he carried out with are: Billy Idol, The Killers, Ministry, Soiled Projectors and Jerry Garcia, to call a couple of. As a core member of short-lived hit magnets The Waitresses, Williams ripped throughout that band’s most enduring tunes, like “Christmas Wrapping” and “I Know What Boys Like.”
However within the area of interest realm of experimental free jazz, Williams was a musicians’ musician. A sampling of the tasks he both led or based consists of the NRG Ensemble, the legendary improvising unit based by Russell; Extraordinary Common Delusions, fairly probably the longest-running free jazz act within the metropolis; Witches & Devils, a tribute to saxophonist Albert Ayler; and the Chicago Reed Quartet. He toured internationally with all of those, in addition to with lauded free jazz teams run by fellow saxophonists Peter Brötzmann (Brötzmann Tentet) and Ken Vandermark (the Vandermark 5).
That’s to not say Williams corralled the numerous genres he explored — removed from it. His rap-meets-jazz-meets-funk group Liquid Soul surfed the acid jazz crest of the ‘90s to Grammy acclaim; the band performed Invoice Clinton’s second inauguration and have become a favourite of the Chicago Bulls. In XMARSX, one other venture, Williams collaborated with MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer. One more Williams brainchild, Sonic Soul Sirkus, mixed brassy, wide-swinging jazz, hip-hop beats, aerial acrobats, and, per his web site, “a performing pit bull.”
“I’m embarrassed to say, at one level I had this Artwork Ensemble percussion set-up with the Waitresses, stuffed with stuff I made and Tibetan monk horn solos,” Williams advised the Tribune.
Sober for practically twenty years, Williams supplied steerage and help to different musicians dwelling with dependancy. Celebrated trumpeter jaimie department, who died final yr, as soon as credited Williams with getting her clear. Whilst his rounds of radiation intensified, Williams refused painkillers, fearing one other relapse.
“I’m at all times out there — individuals know that. I don’t must go round saying I’m sober. Lots of people within the business know, and I’ll get a name,” he stated.
Final June, Rempis began a GoFundMe to help with Williams’ medical prices. It exceeded its $100,000 objective by a large margin — only one measure of the love with which Williams was showered by audiences across the globe.
Proceeds from an upcoming Nov. 25 profit present at Metro, headlined by colleagues from all walks of Williams’ venturesome musical life, have been meant to go towards Williams’ therapy fund.
As a substitute, it is going to have a good time his life, and the music he crammed each sq. inch of it with.
“It’s so infectious, Mars’s love of enjoying, in each sense of that phrase,” says guitarist Steve Marquette, who performed and toured with Williams in a number of configurations. “Generally, the academically rigorous language that will get used round this music takes a entrance seat to that pleasure of constructing sound. However Mars’s music isn’t about pushing individuals away. It’s a pure and trustworthy type of expression.”
Hannah Edgar is a contract author.
“Music for Mars,” that includes Liquid Soul, the Joe Marcinek Band and Jesse De La Peña, with particular visitors Richard Butler, Zachary Alford and Wealthy Good of Psychedelic Furs, Jeff Coffin of Dave Matthews Band, Richard Fortus of Weapons N’ Roses and Ike Reilly, is 8 p.m. Nov. 25 at Metro, 3730 N. Clark St., tickets $35 at door, $30 advance, $150 desk for 2, metrochicago.com