Tony Williams obituary | Jazz
Tony Williams, an old school friend of mine who died at the age of 80 from complications from Alzheimer’s disease, was a record producer, the founder of Spotlite Records and a pioneer of music appreciation. modern jazz.
Born in Enfield, north London, he was the youngest son of Pip (née Fortuna) and Ronald Williams, a teacher. Tony attended Glendale High School in Wood Green. He left in his mid teens, having drawn inspiration from recordings by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, and the pursuit of bebop and modern jazz became a consuming passion. He fueled this passion by working at HMV and with soul mates at Dobell’s Record Store in Charing Cross Road. This led to a Charlie Parker discography which established Tony as an authority on the man and his music.
In the pre-internet world of the 1950s, it wouldn’t have been easy to seek out the somewhat esoteric world of bebop, and it’s a tribute to Tony that he did. I was impressed when I learned that he had played chess with Gillespie in 1961, backstage at the Gaumont State Theater in Kilburn.
In 1963, I joined Tony to meet Ben Webster at the Tally Ho pub in Kentish Town, when Webster was in London with a touring band. It was obvious Tony was at home in this rarefied world. At that time he was living with his French wife Francine (née Mouleux), whom he married in 1963, and their young son, Laurence, in Winchmore Hill, before moving to Harlow, Essex.
Tony formed a relationship with Ross Russell in California, the record producer who founded Dial Records in the 1940s, under which the Parker label had made some of their most important recordings. Russell offered him the rights to Dial’s originals, which were almost forgotten.
This is what prompted Tony to create Spotlite Records. The name comes from a New York club associated with Parker. Interest in bebop was at an all-time low at the time and this friendship with Tony encouraged Russell to complete his definitive Parker biography, Bird Lives. When Clint Eastwood was shooting his movie Bird, his studio contacted Tony for advice on Parker’s music.
The launch of Spotlite in 1968 was based on the “Charlie Parker on Dial” recordings. After the success of Parker’s reissues, Tony left for France to find Parker’s widow, Chan, to give him a portion of the profits.
The 70s and 80s were good years for Spotlite, with a growing catalog of CDs and cassettes as well as vinyl records. Tony’s networking has allowed notable musicians to enjoy the hospitality at his home and at Francine’s in Harlow, including Joe Albany, Cecil Payne, Al Haig, JR Monterose and Red Rodney. Tony also built many other friendships and recording sessions were held with prominent British musicians including Don Rendell, Pete King, Brian Dee, Elaine Delmar and many more.
After his marriage ended in divorce, Tony met Stephanie Coward, with whom he had a son, Gabriel. Stéphanie died in 2019.
Tony is survived by Laurence and Gabriel.