When the Chicago Reader declared in 1997 that audiences “won’t find a busier saxophonist in Chicago than Mars Williams,” extra evergreen phrases had 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 area live performance with the Psychedelic Furs, with whom he toured as just lately as final month.
“I don’t know anyone else who’s able to go one night from playing a rock concert in front of 5,000 people to playing at the Beat Kitchen in front of 10, and taking both contexts absolutely seriously,” saxophonist Dave Rempis instructed the Tribune just lately. “It’s not even rare; it’s unheard of to move back and forth between all the worlds that he does.”
Williams died Nov. 20 from ampullary most cancers, a uncommon most cancers affecting the realm across the small gut, after being identified nearly a 12 months in the past. He was 68. His loss of life was confirmed to the Tribune by his brother Paul Williams.
One of six kids, Williams was born in Elmhurst on May 29, 1955, and grew up in close by Franklin Park. Then “Marc,” Williams was a star clarinetist in his faculty music program. But a summer time spent enjoying in a canopy band put him off the classical coaching he’d dedicated to at DePaul University. Instead, he immersed himself within the far-out sounds of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, the seminal South Side musical collective, and ultimately counted two of its members — Anthony Braxton and Roscoe Mitchell — as mentors.
After a formative jaunt out west to Colorado, Williams made his technique to New York City within the late Nineteen Seventies, earning money as a motorbike messenger and making an attempt to interrupt into the reside music scene. By then, Williams glided by “Mars,” impressed by his child brother’s makes an attempt to pronounce his identify. There, he met his heroes Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry and caught the ear of downtown luminaries like John Zorn.
“Mars Williams is one of the true saxophone players — someone who takes pleasure in the sheer act of blowing the horn and there are not many saxophone players I can truthfully 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 reveals on the music membership CBGB and selecting up gigs by word-of-mouth. That path ultimately 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 Rich Good, who joined the Furs within the aughts, praised Williams’ subtly radical twists on acquainted solos, even on songs he didn’t file with the band.
“He never steps away from what the theme of the song is, but he transcends it, takes it to the next level,” Good says. “The audience is kind of gobsmacked when they see this stuff happen.”
As is the sideman’s lot, Williams was by no means a family identify, although most of the acts he carried out with are: Billy Idol, The Killers, Ministry, Dirty 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.”
But 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 Popular Delusions, fairly seemingly 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 Five).
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 played Bill Clinton’s second inauguration and have become a favourite of the Chicago Bulls. In XMARSX, one other mission, Williams collaborated with MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer. Yet one other 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 point I had this Art Ensemble percussion set-up with the Waitresses, full of stuff I made and Tibetan monk horn solos,” Williams instructed the Tribune.
Sober for almost twenty years, Williams supplied steering and assist to different musicians dwelling with habit. Celebrated trumpeter jaimie department, who died final 12 months, as soon as credited Williams with getting her clear. Even as his rounds of radiation intensified, Williams refused painkillers, fearing one other relapse.
“I’m always available — people know that. I don’t have to go around saying I’m sober. A lot of people in the industry know, and I’ll get a call,” he stated.
Last June, Rempis began a GoFundMe to help with Williams’ medical prices. It exceeded its $100,000 aim 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, had been meant to go towards Williams’ therapy fund.
Instead, it would have fun his life, and the music he crammed each sq. inch of it with.
“It’s so infectious, Mars’s love of playing, in every sense of that word,” says guitarist Steve Marquette, who performed and toured with Williams in a number of configurations. “Sometimes, the academically rigorous language that gets used around this music takes a front seat to that joy of making sound. But Mars’s music is never about pushing people away. It’s a pure and honest form 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 Rich Good of Psychedelic Furs, Jeff Coffin of Dave Matthews Band, Richard Fortus of Guns 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