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John Christopher Williams (b. 1941)
John Christopher Williams

Born: April 24, 1941 - Melbourne, Australia. The remarkable Australian guitarist, John Christopher Williams, was born in Melbourne, Australia to an English father, Leonard (Len) Williams, and an Australian-Chinese mother (a daughter of well known Melbourne barrister William Ah Ket). Len Williams was an accomplished guitarist who emigrated from Britain to Australia, and was best known there for his jazz playing (he was founder of The Monkey Sanctuary in Cornwall, England). John was taught initially by his father, but it soon became apparent that the boy was a gifted guitarist, and the family planned to move back to London so that he could pursue further studies. To afford the trip, Len Williams took an additionalJohn Williams (1966) job as a hippo-keeper at the Melbourne Zoo. They eventually moved to London in 1952. John performed at Conway Hall in London in 1955, making enough of an impression that the famous guitarist Andrés Segovia invited John to study at his courses at the Accademia Chigiana in Siena, Italy. John accepted and became a student of the pioneering guitar soloist from 1957 to 1959. Andrés Segovia said of Williams that "God had touched his brow". He made his official debut at London's Wigmore Hall in 1958, and received reviews that noted a strong, clean tone and a polished though undemonstrative technique. However, Williams does not give Andrés Segovia or his other official teachers a large share of the credit for his technique. He says that most of these teachers were too "authoritarian" in their approach, not excluding Andrés Segovia who, he says, had a tendency to expect his pupils to adopt his interpretive "mannerisms," and would get quite angry when they didn't.

Later, John Williams attended the Royal College of Music (RCM) in London, studying piano because the school did not have a guitar department at the time. Upon graduation, he was offered the opportunity to create such a department. Being such a lover of the instrument, he seized the opportunity and ran it for the first two years. From 1960 to 1973 he was professor of guitar at the RCM. He has maintained links with the College (and with the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester) ever since.

Following successful tours to the Soviet Union in 1962 and the USA and Japan in 1963, John Williams had performed by the early 1960's in London, Paris, Madrid, Japan, Russia, and the USA. He has since performed with outstanding success on regular tours of Europe, North and South America, Australia, and the Far East, playing both solo and with orchestra, and regularly on radio and television. He has performed and recorded nearly the entire standard guitar repertooire, plus a large quantity of transcriptions. Several of these transcriptions are by his own hand.

While he is admired for his performances of the standard works for the guitar, John Williams has explored many different musical traditions outside the classical tradition. His repertoire is truly egalitarian in its scope. Amongst his collaborations with other musicians, those with Itzhak Perlman, Andre Previn, Cleo Laine and John Dankworth are particularly important. The guitarist with whom he formed the closest association is Julian Bream, a fellow student of Andrés Segovia. Bream has often appeared in concert and on recordings as a guitar duo with Williams. His other musical activities have included the fusion group Sky, the groups John Williams and Friends, Attacca, The National Youth Jazz Orchestra with Paul Hart, Paco Peña, the Chilean group Inti-Illimani, and various collaborations with Richard Harvey.

At the invitation of producer Martin Lewis he created a highly acclaimed classical-rock fusion duet with celebrated rock guitarist Pete Townshend of The Who for Townshend's anthemic Won't Get Fooled Again for the 1979 Amnesty International benefit show The Secret Policeman's Ball. The duet was featured on the resulting album and the film version of the show - bringing Williams to the broader attention of the rock audience. The relationship with Lewis led to Williams' classical-rock fusion band Sky being invited to give the first-ever rock concert to be held at Westminster Abbey - a benefit concert for Amnesty International that Lewis produced in February 1981. Williams has also arranged Beatles songs.

John Williams has done much to expand the repertoire by giving the premieres of scores by modern composers. He has commissioned guitar concertos from composers such as Stephen Dodgson, André Previn, Patrick Gowers, Richard Harvey, Steve Gray, Leo Brouwer, and Toru Takemitsu. He has also worked with composers from his native Australia, including Phillip Houghton, Peter Sculthorpe, Ross Edwards and Nigel Westlake, to produce guitar works that capture the spirit of his homeland. John Williams was instrumental in bringing the works of Agustín Barrios back to popularity. Williams has often spoke well of Barrios' work, even stating the he believes Barrios is the greatest composer of guitar music. He is also a composer and arranger himself.

Julian Bream and John Williams

John Williams (1971)John Williams records for Sony BMG. Examples of his wide-ranging interest in contemporary music have included his recording of music by the Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu with the London Sinfonietta, an album featuring the music of Peter Sculthorpe and Nigel Westlake called "From Australia" and his CD of music by the Cuban composer Leo Brouwer, called "The Black Decameron", which includes Brouwer's Fourth Concerto. His many other recordings include several of Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez, concertos by Richard Harvey and Steve Gray, "Vivaldi Concertos", "The Great Paraguayan", "John Williams plays the Movies", "The Guitarist" (in which he uses Turkish and Greek rhythms and harmonies to support Medieval music, including his own Aeolian Suite with string orchestra) the Arpeggione sonata by Schubert, and Concerto, Op. 30 by Giuliani with the Australian Chamber Orchestra, in which he plays an 1814 Guadagnini guitar. In 2001 Sony Classical released his CD entitled "The Magic Box" in which his group "John Williams and Friends" presented adaptations of African music. This includes music from Senegal, Cameroon, Zaire, South Africa, Madagascar and Cape Verde. Since its release they have toured the UK, USA, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Germany, Spain and Italy. Recently, Sony Classical released his solo CD entitled "El Diablo Suelto". This is a collection of Venezuelan music by composers including Figueredo, Sojo, Lauro, Fernandez and Gutierrez. John Williams has toured the UK and abroad with this repertoire. His latest CD compilation "The Ultimate Guitar Collection" has now been released by Sony.

John Williams plays often for films. He enjoyed a worldwide hit single with his recording of Cavatina by Stanley Myers, used as the theme tune to the Oscar-winning film The Deer Hunter (1979). The piece had originally been written for piano but at Williams' invitation, it was re-written for guitar and was expanded by Myers. After this transformation, it was used for another film, The Walking Stick (1970). He also played on the soundtrack of the film A Fish Called Wanda. In 1973, Cleo Laine wrote lyrics and recorded the song He Was Beautiful accompanied by John Williams. A year later, it was a top 5 UK hit single for Iris Williams (no relation). The highly successful "Profile" and "The Seville Concert", both directed by David Thomas for London Weekend Television's South Bank Show, are particular examples of John William ' enthusiasm for communicating music on television.

John Williams has recently formed a duo with Richard Harvey, who plays a great variety of instruments with John Williams' guitar: their "World Tour" programincludes music from China, S.E. Asia, Africa, Madagascar, Latin America, Ireland, Medieval Europe, and also George Frideric Handel and Piazzolla. In the 2006-2007 season, John Williams and jazz guitarist, John Etheridge will team up as a duo and tour the UK and USA (both in the fall and spring) in a program that will feature compositions written by them as well as some African music and a new work by American guitarist/composer Benjamin Verdery. This program will also be recorded by Sony BMG live in Dublin, released in the fall of 2006, and performed in major venues across the USA.

John Williams also plays tennis, badminton, chess, table tennis and likes talking. He lives in London. Williams and his third wife Kathy reside in London and Australia. He has a daughter Kate, now an established jazz pianist, from his first marriage (to Lindy); and a son, Charlie Williams, from his second marriage (to broadcaster Sue Cook). In 1980 he was made an OffIce of the Order Queen of the British Empire.


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