Tenor saxophonist Irv Williams may have recently turned 93, 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.
Pianist Peter Schimke is one of the most in-demand keyboardists in the area. Schimke began playing piano and drums at the age of eight. By the age of twelve he was playing boogie-woogie and blues piano, while singing with his older brother’s blues band. After sitting in on vocals, keyboards and drums with bands throughout his teens, Peter’s first professional gig was with the New Psychenauts.
He went on to be lead singer for the Swingin’ Combo; both bands were part of the early Mpls rock scene that launched the Replacements and Husker Du. It was about this time that he played his first professional rock gigs on keyboard, most notably with Hammond organ with blues harmonica legend Charlie Musselwhite at the Blue Max on Maui. He is a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Grant and a scholarship to the Banff Arts Centre. Peter has also studied classical piano with James D. Johnson and Gary Kirkpatrick of the Verdehr Trio. He studied jazz piano with Brazilian pianist Manfredo Fest, Jim McNeely and Harold Mabern.
Over the years Peter has either toured, performed or recorded with, among others, Iffy, Likehell, Art Farmer, Tom Harrell, Fareed Haque, Mark Murphy, Julee Cruise of “Twin Peaks”, El Buho, Jeff Sipe, Victor Wooten, Estaire Godinez, Rita Coolidge and many more. Most recently, Peter has recorded a live concert with saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi that will be released on DVD as well as collaboration with Marcos Casal to be released on the label Universal Spain. He is also singing, playing and composing for his own new solo project that is currently in production.
What Other People Have Been Saying...
“Notes from Williams’ saxophone seem to float on air rather than fill it.” - Pioneer Press