Jessica Williams


Jessica Williams photo by Jimmy and Deana Katz

Jessica Williams, one of the finest jazz pianists of the modern era, passed away on March 12, 2022, just five days shy of her 74th birthday.

Williams lived in Seattle off and on, performing here often through the 1990s and beyond, and blazed trails as a trans woman in jazz. For the last two decades, while in the Pacific Northwest she was active with her trios and had  a long relationship with Seattle-based label Origin Records. 

After classical training, including at the Peabody Conservatory of Music, Williams started her performing career in Philadelphia with drum great Philly Joe Jones. She settled in San Francisco and played in house bands at Keystone Korner, and with a wide array of renowned leaders including Eddie Harris, Dexter Gordon, Tony Williams, and Stan Getz.

Renowned for her expansive imagination, nuanced touch, and impeccable taste, she was nominated three times for Grammy awards. Among honors she received were two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Rockefeller Grant for composing, the Alice B. Toklas Grant for Women Composers, and the prestigious John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship. In 2004 and 2006, Williams appeared at Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festivals at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

For Williams, it was all about the music. Veteran Seattle jazz big band trumpeter Marv Thomas, who owned and operated the fabled Pioneer Square jazz club Parnell’s from 1980 to 1983, recalled: “Two musicians that I had at Parnell’s who refused to play to a chattering audience were Blossom Dearie and Jessica Williams. They both demanded the quiet and respect their music deserved.”


Posted on

March 28, 2022