Jazz bassist Ben Williams, a native Washingtonian, has grown up, and is coming home to show the D.C. region how he’s matured since he released his debut album State of Art in 2011. He’ll be playing a show at The Hamilton tomorrow night to celebrate the release of his sophomore album, Coming of Age, which came out earlier this week.
“I feel like a lot of growth has happened on different levels,” Williams said. “I definitely feel like my composition skills are a lot stronger and almost all the songs on this record are original compositions…I’ve just been doing a lot more writing….so there’s been growth on a musical level and on a personal level.
“You know, the process of growing up and my personal awareness of the world and dealing with different things in my life….I’m really discovering how to translate life into music. I’m getting better at that, I think.”
Only two of the songs on Coming of Age are covers, Lianne La Havas’ “Lost and Found” and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” so Williams got a lot of practice translating life into music through his compositions. And, he said, having a working band is helpful to his writing process.
“I have working musicians who can help me develop my ideas,” Williams said. “And just [writing and composing] more and really studying…it’s a skill that you develop, not too different from your technical ability on an instrument, there’s no substitute for practicing and doing it a lot…. And just being more conscious as a human being, because music, to me, is always a reflection of life. The internal and external and how the external effects the internal.”
Probably the best example of the external effecting Williams’ internal creative process on Coming of Age is the track “Strength and Beauty,” which he wrote on the day of the 2012 Newtown shooting. A close friend of his, jazz saxophonist Jimmy Greene, lost a daughter in the shooting.
“As the song developed, it was kind of a somber tune, but then seeing how Jimmy and his wife and their family just gathered themselves together and turned it into an opportunity to try to make a change and the strength that they showed, it was unbelievable to watch that. So it made me want to change the energy of the song from being somber and remorseful to something that had strength, something that was a little more powerful.”
“Strength and Beauty” is the second song on what amounts to a musical odyssey, with songs of struggle and triumph. Williams said he’s “very proud” of the album.
“I think it has a nice shape, has a nice flow and I got to touch on a lot of things that I’m into,” Williams said. “I think it came out really great. I think the band sounds amazing. There’s a lot of communication going on and I think you can really feel that it’s not just a group of guys you called for a record date. It’s an actual band.”
Williams and his band Sound Effect will be playing tunes from Coming of Age at The Hamilton. Coming off of a European leg of their tour, he said that he and the band will “be nice and warmed up” for the show.
“I’ve been touring with this band for a while now and we’ve developed a lot of chemistry by just being on the road and hanging out,” Williams said. “And we’re all good friends outside of playing music.”
He said he’s very excited to return to his hometown for this show at this stage in his career.
“I love playing in D.C. I always feel the love and it always feels like home,” Williams said. “So I’m very excited to show people what I’ve been learning out here and what I’ve been working on. I’m definitely looking forward to it.”
• For more information about Ben Williams, visit benwilliamsmusic.net.