Tony Williams (1945–97) had to be the most precocious innovator in jazz history. The drummer was only seventeen when he joined the Miles Davis quintet in 1963 after being introduced to the New York scene by alto saxophonist Jackie McLean. Williams brought a new notion of space, sound, and polyrhythmic activity to the drum kit that proved immediately influential. Over the next five years, he participated in the discoveries of the Davis band, where he formed one of the all-time great rhythm sections with pianist Herbie Hancock and bassist Ron Carter. All of that occurred before Williams struck out on his own as a bandleader in 1969, whereupon he commenced to make more history with his revolutionary electric band Lifetime. This unit entered realms of high-energy palying and stylistic cross-pollination that, while less widely heralded, went beyond the contemporaneous efforts of Williams’s former employer. This was also the unit that revealed Williams’s startling and unique gifts as a composer.
Excerpted from Bob Blumenthal’s notes for Ultimate Tony Williams