Local Saxophone Legend
Tenor saxophonist Irv Williams may be in his 90’s, but he almost always has the youngest ideas on any stage he is on. Raised in Cincinnati and Little Rock, Arkansas, a Navy band gig brought Williams to Minneapolis in 1942, and he has called it home since. Irv has performed in just about every jazz club the Twin Cities has hosted since WWII, including The Flame Bar where he split sets with stars like Sarah Vaughan, Dizzy Gillespie and Johnny Hodges.
This beloved tenor sax player has worked in bands fronted by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Fletcher Henderson, Mary Lou Williams, Billy Eckstine‘s orchestra and many other jazz luminaries at venues like the Apollo Theater and the Howard Theater. His warm, soulful tone and mastery of the jazz ballad earned him the moniker “Mister Smooth” (as bestowed by former Pioneer Press jazz writer Bob Protzman).
He spent decades teaching in the St. Paul public schools, guest lecturing at the University of Minnesota, and performing with the late jazz messenger, Dr. Reginald Buckner. Irv was the first jazz musician to be honored by the State of Minnesota with his own “Irv Williams Day” in 1984, and had his picture on the “Celebrate Minnesota” official state map in 1990. His many awards include induction into the Minnesota Jazz Hall of Fame and receiving the Arts Midwest Jazz Masters Award in 1995.
What Other People Have Been Saying...
“Notes from Williams’ saxophone seem to float on air rather than fill it.” - Pioneer Press
“His tone is breathy and warm. Sometimes his playing is like a kiss on your cheek or a gentle hand on the back of your neck. He’s a master of the love song.” – St. Paul Almanac