Mars Williams, 68, Saxophonist Who Straddled New Wave and Jazz, Dies

Weakened by surgical procedure to take away a tumor close to his pancreas in January, adopted by six months of chemotherapy, the high-wattage saxophonist Mars Williams discovered this previous summer time that his remedy choices had been practically exhausted.

However somewhat than resting an ailing physique, he selected to return to the highway. He joined the Psychedelic Furs, a band he had carried out and recorded with for the reason that Nineteen Eighties, because it toured the US.

“Being on a grueling bus tour could be exhausting for anybody,” Dave Rempis, a buddy and fellow saxophonist, mentioned in a telephone interview. “By the tip, he was sitting in a dressing room with blankets and heaters throughout him. He might barely transfer. However he would nonetheless exit onstage and play as onerous as ever. He simply needed to be again onstage the place he felt most alive.”

Mr. Williams died at a hospice facility in Chicago on Nov. 20. He was 68. His brother, Paul R. Williams, mentioned the trigger was ampullary most cancers.

Mr. Williams was angling for a profession in jazz in 1981 when the Waitresses, an idiosyncratic New York-based new wave band, got here calling, dangling a newly minted report cope with Polydor. The band, marked by the deadpan vocal stylings of Patty Donahue, scored with the indelible cult hits “I Know What Boys Like” and “Christmas Wrapping,” in addition to the theme tune to the celebrated, if short-lived, Nineteen Eighties highschool sitcom “Sq. Pegs.”

Along with his explosive horn traces and electrical stage presence, Mr. Williams captured the spirit of the band — by no means thoughts that his grounding within the exploratory jazz of Eric Dolphy and Ornette Coleman made him an odd match within the milieu of MTV in its early days, when acts might discover in a single day fame on the power of cotton-candy haircuts and satisfactory synthesizer expertise.

“He was a goofball, like a whole lot of reed gamers,” Chris Butler, the Waitresses’ founder and chief songwriter, mentioned in a telephone interview. “I feel it has one thing to do with all that again stress on their brains after they’re blowing right into a brass tube, . However he had such huge chops. After we performed reside, he would improvise, solo, fill the preparations with this magnificent stuff. And it was completely different each night time.”

No instrument, it appeared, was off limits to Mr. Williams, together with bells, whistles, and pots and pans. “I had a whole lot of freedom,” he mentioned in a 2019 interview with the jazz journalist Howard Mandel. “I’m up blowing Tibetan monk horn solos over their rhythms. I’m capable of do all these completely different kinds inside this pop band.”

He joined the Psychedelic Furs, a British post-punk band, after the Waitresses fragmented in 1983. His new group was then buying and selling its early Velvet Underground-style rawness for a slicker model of pop following the success of other hits like “Love My Manner” (1982).

Mr. Williams lent his wailing horn traces to the band’s 1984 album, “Mirror Strikes,” though he was not featured on the album’s sleeve or within the closely aired movies for its songs “Heaven” and “The Ghost in You.” He toured and recorded with the Psychedelic Furs till 1989. After an extended hiatus, he rejoined them in 2005.

Ever the musical explorer, Mr. Williams carried out with many rock and pop acts, together with the Killers, Billy Idol and Jerry Garcia, and earned acclaim with a number of Chicago jazz outfits, together with his personal long-running ensemble, Liquid Soul, which carried out at inauguration festivities for President Invoice Clinton in 1997 and earned a Grammy Award nomination for its 2000 album, “Right here’s the Deal.”

“Mars Williams is likely one of the true saxophone gamers — somebody who takes pleasure within the sheer act of blowing the horn,” the avant-garde jazz saxophonist and composer John Zorn wrote within the liner notes to “Eftsoons,” Mr. Williams’s 1981 collaboration with the jazz composer and bandleader Hal Russell, “and there should not many saxophone gamers I can in truth say this about.”

Marc Charles Williams was born on Could 29, 1955, in Elmhurst, Sick., the fifth of six kids of Jack Williams, who owned a number of pharmacies and served as an Illinois state consultant, and Hilda (Van Outrive) Williams, who managed the Prepare dinner County ethics division. He picked up his nickname from a mispronunciation of his first title by his child brother, Paul.

Along with his brother, his survivors embody his mom and two sisters, Michele Williams-Piotrowski and Suzy Williams. His sister Valerie Williams and his brother Jack died.

A classically skilled clarinetist as a youth, Mr. Williams switched to saxophone after graduating from Holy Cross Excessive College in River Grove, Sick., in 1973 and briefly studied music principle at DePaul College in Chicago.

His musical journey led him to New York Metropolis, the place he labored as a motorcycle messenger and performed gigs with punk bands on the nightclub CBGB whereas making an attempt to construct a profession in jazz earlier than taking a detour into pop that might final till his ultimate months.

As soon as his pop profession took off, life on the highway got here with acquainted perils, together with drug dependancy, which he wrestled with for years. He spent his final 20 years sober, he mentioned in interviews, whereas counseling different musicians of their struggles.

Mr. Rempis mentioned he final noticed Mr. Williams on Oct. 25.

“He had gotten again from six weeks on the highway with the Psychedelic Furs,” he mentioned, “and ended up within the hospital for a number of days. When he bought out, he mentioned, ‘You recognize, I may not be capable of do these excursions in December in Europe.’ That’s the place his head was at: The place am I going now? What’s the following factor?”


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