“Bass is Beautiful”: An Interview with Bassist Trefor Williams

“Bass is Beautiful”

Originally an Essex lad, Trefor Williams has fond memories of Sunday afternoons spent at his grandparents home in Ilford. His grandfather had a beautiful polished wood radiogram in the lounge along with a wonderful collection of orchestral records. So when he was just three, Trefor would take centre stage and conduct his imaginary orchestra. Such an auspicious beginning augured well for his deep love of the bass.

 In recent years and especially since painting his portrait on Bertha, his double bass, Trefor and his wife Kate have become good friends and I was delighted when he agreed to this interview for Jazz&Jazz.

Peter Butler: Trefor, do you remember what it was that especially attracted to to the double bass when you where no more than a toddler?

Trefor Williams: I remember it well. It was the bass frequencies from my grandfather’s radiogram that vibrated through the floor and up into my tiny body that excited me. That was in the early 1950s when I lived with my parents in Romford. Later, when I had my own record player, I would always turn the tone controls to full bass.

PB: And that led to your love of jazz and in particular the double bass?

TW: To my love of the bass, yes, and it was inevitable that I should eventually get my hands on a bass of my own. But it was my parents who first got me into jazz. They were both ardent jazz and swing band fans. They first met as students at a Nat Gonnella concert before the war and after they were married they continued to support jazz in London throughout the war years. Nat Gonnella was a trumpeter and bandleader and was one of the first British musicians to establish a major reputation as a jazz soloist on a par with Louis Armstrong. Those two great jazz bassists Charles Mingus and Richard Davis also had a major impact on me.

At the Canterbury Festival with Sammy Rimington and Eric Webster

PB: So your future career was defined?

TW: Absolutely! I studied formally for three years and then began dabbling in contemporary jazz.

PB: I remember you once told me you still like aspects of all forms of jazz, but it wasn’t long before you changed course?

TW: That’s right. I soon got back to the “roots” and I’ve been plucking, bowing, slapping and swinging my way through powerful, driving New Orleans jazz ever since. I sometimes break loose in solos, but the role I enjoy most is as an accompanist – supplying those essential links and rhythmic patterns to interact with, underpin and create a springboard for the front line guys and the ensemble.

PB: Ah, but Trefor, I know your are modest, but I think you are doing yourself a disservice! I know for a fact that trad jazz fans love your performances and especially your solos. You are a main attraction at clubs and festivals on the British and European jazz circuit and are far from an unknown in the Mecca of jazz, New Orleans. Max Collie on his website highlights “your incredible slap bass playing” and not too many bassists are as skilful with the bow as you are. Which leads me on to the bands and musicians you have played with over the years. After Charles Mingus and Richard Davis first inspired you, how did how did it all begin? 

Slap-bass playing with Max Collie’s Rhythm Aces

TW: OK! First of all I studied double bass with one of London’s top session musicians after which I went on to work with many top-line artists from Phil Mason, “Kid” Thomas Valentine, “Wild” Bill Davison and Sammy Rimington to the “Midnight Follies Orchestra”, the “Inkspots”, Eartha Kitt, the “Big Chris Barber Band”, not forgetting the legendary Max Collie and his Rhythm Aces.

PB: That’s some list! But again you are holding back! Besides playing bass, you played a pretty substantial role with some of those bands?

TW: Well, I was a founder member of “Phil Mason’s New Orleans Allstars” back in 1992, I worked for more than 21 years with the “Max Collie Rhythm Aces” and I’m pleased to be back with them again now. I tour the UK annually with Sammy Rimington’s International Jazz Band and over the years I’ve toured Europe, Scandinavia, the USA, Canada, Japan, Australia and even the jungles of Borneo. Also my music and my love of jazz involves me in wonderful sound recordings, radio and TV broadcasts, concerts, festivals, church services and clubs.

PB: At last, Trefor, the Full Monte! Yet not quite because I believe you have your own group which jazz fans should be sure to watch out for?

TW: Yes I do. It’s called “Trefor Williams Select Six” and was launched about five years ago. I wanted to form a band close to home in Folkestone mainly to tour local jazz venues in support of the Kent jazz scene.

PB: And I simply have to mention it, you are already signed up for Ramsgate Seaside Shuffle, a brand new Jazz Festival launched in 2011.

Playing bass for The Gambit Jazzmen at Ramsgate Seaside Shuffle’s February gig.

TW: Indeed so! Wonderful! Right on our doorstep! And The Shuffle has got monthly gigs going at a brilliant new venue, Court Stairs Manor and Country Club in Ramsgate. In fact I played there with Pete Lay’s Gambit Jazzmen in February and the “Select Six” are booked for a gig on Friday, 30th March. Then we are one of the bands playing at the Seaside Shuffle Festival itself over the weekend of the 6th, 7th and 8th July. We are booked for the Saturday afternoon session. The Seaside Shuffle Committee have done a great job getting this all going in the current economic climate – its great for traditional jazz. So, fans, please do come along and join the fun.

At The Granville Theatre, Ramsgate

PB: Trefor, I really must ask one final question. Just how and when did you acquire your nickname “Fingers”? 

TW: I can’t remember exactly when but it was in the earlier years when I first joined the Max Collie Rhythm Aces. Typical Max! He has always been a great one for nicknames. So mine was “Fingers” and it stuck although I can’t say I’ve ever been enamoured by it!

PB: Thank you so much, Trefor, for giving such a wonderful  interview to Jazz&Jazz and for all you are doing for traditional jazz. Have you any closing thoughts?

TW: Just to say that I continue to gain strength, direction and purpose from my deep Christian faith, my wonderful wife, Kate, and the fellowship and constant challenges I get from all the fine musicians I have the pleasure of working with. Jazz thrives on spontaneity and it’s all about entertaining people and projecting fun so I hope my music uplifts jazz fans everywhere.

On bass with the New Orleans Po’ Boys at the 2011 Hemsby Autumn Parade

(Photos © Peter M Butler, Jazz&Jazz)

View Peter’s Jazz&Jazz portrait of Trefor Williams.

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  1. David Price says:

    Is There Any Money In Jazz?

    If you are looking to make a living from jazz, you might find it difficult unless you are either a celebrity or are particularly good at it.

    For more years than I can count, I did earn a living playing the banjo and vocalising but this was not the jazz club scene; it was the private and corporate, the playing in John Lewis or Sainsbury store (or outside), everybody’s wedding, funeral or cocktail party in all the best (and worst hotels). I don’t think there’s a famous London hotel in which I haven’t appeared. Ah, they were grand venues: Dorchester, Café Royal, Piccadilly, Langham, etc., etc. The style of jazz was ordinary – Dixieland, I guess – standards and requests. I remember one lady of later youth once asking, “Can you play Won’t You Come Home, Bill Haley?” I guess we averaged three gigs a week for the trio or quartet – nobody stretched to more when a small unit would suffice. As far back as I can remember, I never paid my men less than £100.00 per knob and myself a bit extra for being leader and arranging everything. This type of work has sadly diminished. In fact it’s dwindled to almost nothing. For professional work a professional attitude is very necessary: turn up on time and look and sound good.

    So what are we to do? I once spoke to a magician, whose fee is around £250.00 for an appearance, who explained that if his paid work dried up, he’d do it without pay. I guess it’s similar with the jazz scene. Happily, there are enough splendid jazz promoters, interested enough to run jazz clubs with little or no profit. The arithmetic is easy: 40punters @ £6.00 minus a tiny fee to seven musicians leaves the promoter, taking all the risks and headaches, about 2p profit. But all jazzers have to perform. What else can they do? Take away their jazzing and you take away their soul and purpose in life.

    Nowadays, like other jazz musicians, I turn my hand to as many areas of use as my ability allows. I teach both banjo and jazz appreciation and play in as many sundry musical aggregations as might occur. I even entertain solo singing, playing banjo to specially prepared backing tracks. I’m currently working with The Frog Island Jazz Band, have a swing quartet (David Price Swing Thing). I play with anyone who needs me and will put together any size combo – to order. I sometimes teach jazz or banjo workshops and even adjudicate at festivals occasionally. I play banjo in pit orchestras for musicals (I’ve done them all, even Chicago and sometimes even play with symphony orchestras (Rhapsody In Blue is a favourite).

    So you see, there is money to be made – not a great deal in jazz clubs but who else gets paid for indulging in the hobby/interest? You’d pay through the nose if you were a golfer.

    If I were asked to give just one piece of advice to an up and coming jazz musician looking to earn a living through the sport, I’d say, “Thoroughly learn your instrument and study music Learn your trade and be as versatile as possible.”

    Good luck, David Price A.L.C.M.

  2. Peter Butler says:

    In depth analysis, David. Thank you for taking the time. Good advice too. This is precisely the kind of discussion Jazz&Jazz seeks to encourage. It’s all part of striving to get jazz back on track and in your final paragraph you talk about how up and coming jazz musicians are to earn a living from jazz. Oh, how we need them to succeed and reinvigorate the jazz scene! You also talk about good-hearted jazz promoters running jazz clubs for little or no profit. Timely, because the next Jazz&Jazz interview is to be with just such a jazz promoter. So watch this space.


  3. Trefor Williams says:

    You’re quite right, David. There is no substitute for hard studying, so you can face any situation. Not just studying your instrument, but also developing an appreciation of all the styles, aspects and approaches of jazz music. There’s no room for “paper ears” in this “game”. I strongly believe we owe it to the music and to all the great players of the past to produce quality and meaningful music together with some fun and good entertainment. Our music is still alive and valid and mustn’t die due to selling it cheap in a poor quality presentation.
    Let me know if you need a bassist for any of your set-ups. Cheers, mate!

  4. Not sure whether I have the right Trevor Williams – did you ever play with Bill Barnacle at the Cliffe Tavern – St Margaret’s Bay? – in which case – so long ago – I had the pleasure of your Bass accompaniment every Wednesday night (Sometimes, if you could make it!) whilst playing Jazz on my piano. I am still playing Jazz piano quite a lot (tho’ I can say much improved!)….though currently in France where it’s much harder to get gigs without being a bona fide musician. If you are the Trefor I know, I would be very pleased to re-establish a connection.

    I was the Proprietor of the Cliffe Tavern with my wife Lucie (before the Fire in 1996 which nearly finished us all off!)

  5. Peter Butler says:

    Sadly Trefor Willaims has passed away. Such a sad loss: https://www.jazzandjazz.com/2017/09/farewell-and-god-bless-you-trefor-williams/

    But I’m sure he would have played with Bill Barnacle at The Cliffe Tavern. Sadly Bill also recently passed away. Here are my YouTubes of them playing together not long before they departed for that great band in the sky. The event – The Ramsgate Seaside Shuffle Jazz Festival.


    Best wishes but sorry about the loss of yours and my close friends.


  6. Thanks Peter for updating me with the sad news – I am truly shocked. I suppose I had dreams of one day playing with them again. Bill was particularly helpful to me whilst at the Cliffe Tavern at St Margarets and he gave me several coaching sessions at his home which were of great help to me. It seems that our age group (65 and over!) are fighting a bit of a battle to keep trad. jazz (especially) alive.

    Have you any contacts in Brittany? Have my own Roland 170 piano and can travel! We are currently living 48 kls South of St Malo at Tinteniac which has its own small Jazz fest on at the moment which reminded me of Trefor and Bill.

    . Have a blog since 2006 written chiefly to keep in touch with friends and rellies….thanks again….


  7. Peter Butler says:

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