By Cory Bilicko
When the next Expo jazz concert returns to Bixby Knolls this Sunday, a good cause will come along with it.
Chris Williams, a local jazz singer and percussionist, has been performing since he was 15 years old, touring the United States, Canada, and Europe and gracing the stages of venues such as The Bing Crosby Estate, Catalina Bar and Grill, The Jazz Bakery, The Lighthouse, Disneyland and California Adventure Theme Park. He has earned numerous awards, including four vocal solo awards at the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival and a major scholarship to the elite Berklee College of Music in Boston. His recording of “Comes Love” from his debut album Premodernism won Best Latin Song at the 2007 Orange County Music Awards, and he has been featured on television on LA Fox 11 News, as well as on the radio on KKJZ, KABC with Doug McIntyre, and KLAC as part of its “Fabulous Finds” series. In 2008, he completed a two-year engagement as the entertainment director of the Orange County Pavilion Performing Arts Center.
Needless to say, the scope of his influence on the music community has been far reaching, which is why it’s no surprise that, now that Williams is in need of financial assistance to pay for medical bills for a recent hernia operation and an upcoming surgery for pre-cancerous tumors on his liver, a veritable Who’s Who in the local jazz community is stepping up to help out.
Sunday’s concert, which will be hosted by KKJZ deejay Helen Borgers and Steamers Jazz Club owner Terence Love, will be a benefit to raise money for Williams’s medical procedures. The event will feature: trumpeter Kye Palmer, who was a regular in Jay Leno’s Tonight Show Band; Dave Miller, the bassist with Royal Crown Revue; Ron Stout, who has played trumpet with Horace Silver, among many others; legendary Latin jazz reedman Justo Almario; drummer Clayton Cameron, considered the “master of the brushes” who has performed with Kenny Burrell and Tony Bennett; pianist Mark Massey; and the Estrada Brothers, with Ruben Estrada on vibes.
“It’s going to be a fabulous four hours of music, in addition to being
a worthy cause,” said Borgers. “Recently, Chris has been having serious health problems, through which he was gamely continuing to perform. But now, after one surgery, another has become immediately necessary, and Chris has no insurance. The medical bills, as you can imagine, are enormous. So his friends in the music business are rallying to his aid.”
Saxophonist Edmund Velasco, who is also lending a hand with the benefit, first met Williams backstage in 2004 at Steamers after Love asked Velasco to play with Williams since the vocalist needed a sax player. “I thought, ‘Well, okay, but I usually don’t work with singers,’” Velasco said. “But, when the music started, I could tell that Chris was something special. I had a great time. He must have liked what I was doing too because we’ve been playing music together ever since.”
Velasco says Williams is an extremely talented singer and entertainer whose talent is made even more impressive by his ability to perform through pain. “He has never failed to put on a great show, even though there are times when I can’t understand how he can get up on stage because of his pain,” he said. “His warmth and charm never fail to capture all who come out to see him.”
The show begins at 4pm on Sunday, May 2 at the Expo building, 4321 Atlantic Ave. Admission is a $20 donation at the door.