I'm guessing that the new quartet was more Esmond Edwards' idea than Wright's, because according to Wright, he had never played with a horn before, and wasn't quite sure what to do. "I didn't know how to really play with horns then," he said later, "so I just started to comp behind Eddy Williams."
Wright may have been exaggerating a bit about his inexperience with horns. In an interview with Rebecca Zorach for the blog Never The Same: Conversations About Art Transforming Politics and Community in Chicago and Beyond, Wright recalled his first gig upon returning from the army after the Korean War, back when he could expect to get paid $7.50 a night:
When I came home from the military, my first job was on the West Side of Chicago at a place called, Fifth Jack, it was located at Fifth Ave. and Jackson Blvd. and it was operated by two prominent gangsters, they’re deceased now, I guess I can use their names: Butch English [this must be Charles Carmen "Chuckie English" Inglesia--TR] and Tony Accardo. I played there for one month. They told me to bring in a couple of horn players on the weekends! Well, I had met a couple of good horn players and I had invited them to play with me one weekend, they were the famous Gene Ammons, and Dexter Gordon, both tenor saxophonists.Listening to Wright and Williams together, you'd find it hard to believe that Wright didn't know how to play with a horn player, particularly this horn player. Wright's percussive attack and Williams' hard-edged tone complement each other nicely. And they must have worked out a few ideas for the session together, because two of the best tracks on the album, "Makin' Out" and "Back in Jersey," have the two of them listed as co-composers. Two more ("Sparkle" and "Soul Search" are credited to Williams alone, and two ("Street" and "Kitty") are Wright alone.
Eddy "Cat-Eye" Williams was one of those unsung heroes, one of those guys who could play, and who could always get a job because everyone knew he could play. We know that in the 1930s and 1940s he played with Claude Williams, Tiny Bradshaw, Billy Kyle, Don Redman, Jelly Roll Morton, Lucky Millinder, Ella Fitzgerald, Wilbur De Paris, and James P. Johnson. \
Then nothing until 1958-59, when he recorded a couple of albums on Blue Note with Bennie Green. Marc Myers of the Jazzwax blog, who can track down pretty much anybody and anything, can only say
Puzzlingly, there are huge gaps of time in Williams' discography in the '50s—perhaps a result of a prolific R&B sideman career or some other reason.The sides with Green were memorable, and were followed up by this session with John Wright. Later in the decade, a record with Pee Wee Russell and Oliver Nelson, and one with Earl Coleman.
And then? A couple of different internet bios say he "disappeared without a trace."
So this small window between 1958 and 1961, two albums with Bennie Green and one with John Wright, may be the apex of Williams's career, and if so, they give us more than a glimpse--a really good look into a really solid jazz performer, one who deserves to be remembered. We talked a lot about the swing-to-bop musicians like Zoot Sims and Coleman Hawkins, and what they gave to jazz, but the rhythm-and-blues-to-bop musicians, like Gene Ammons, King Curtis, and David "Fathead" Newman, were important too, and surely Williams was one of those.
You can hear it all on "Makin' Out," one of the Wright/Williams collaborations. Williams as a soloist, Wright as a soloist, and Wright as an inventive, intelligent and sympathetic musical collaborator with the right horn player. One of the few things we do know about Williams is that he was from Chicago, so maybe he and Wright had more of a history of playing together.
In "Makin' Out" you can also hear what a difference Roy Brooks makes. Brooks, from the jazz-intensive workshop that was Detroit, got his start with Yusef Lateef and Barry Harris. One of the more innovative drummers of his generation, he suffered from crippling bouts of mental illness that finally got the best of him. But he is certainly one of the reasons this whole session is as good as it is.
Esmond Edwards produced. The album was called Makin' Out, and it was released on Prestige. The title track, at a little less than five minutes long, could almost have made one side of a 45, but it was split and spaced over two.
Listening to Prestige Vol 4, 1959-60, now available from Amazon! Also on Kindle!
Volumes 1-3 are also available from Amazon.
The most interesting book of its kind that I have ever seen. If any of you real jazz lovers want to know about some of the classic records made by some of the legends of jazz, get this book. LOVED IT.
– Terry Gibbs