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John Williams (guitarist)

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John Williams
Guitarist John Williams in performance (Cordoba, 1986).jpg
Williams in concert in Cordoba, 1986
Background information
Birth nameJohn Christopher Williams
Born (1941-04-24) 24 April 1941 (age 79)
Melbourne, Australia
GenresClassical music, progressive rock
Occupation(s)Guitarist, arranger and composer
Years active1958 – present
Labels Columbia Records
Associated acts Sky

John Christopher Williams, AO OBE (born 24 April 1941) is an Australian virtuosic classical guitarist renowned for his ensemble playing as well as his interpretation and promotion of the modern classical guitar repertoire. In 1973, he shared a Grammy Award in the Best Chamber Music Performance category with fellow guitarist Julian Bream for Together (released in the US as Julian and John (Works by Lawes, Carulli, Albéniz, Granados)). [1] Guitar historian Graham Wade has said: "John is perhaps the most technically accomplished guitarist the world has seen." [2]


Early life

John Williams was born on 24 April 1941 in Melbourne, Australia, to an English father, Len Williams, who later founded the Spanish Guitar Centre in London, and Malaan (née Ah Ket), a daughter of Melbourne barrister William Ah Ket. In 1952, the family moved to England where he attended Friern Barnet Grammar School, London. [3] Williams was initially taught guitar by his father, who was an accomplished guitarist. [4] From the age of 11, Williams attended summer courses with Andrés Segovia at the Accademia Musicale Chigiana in Siena, Italy. Later, he attended the Royal College of Music in London, from 1956 to 1959, studying piano because the college did not have a guitar department at the time. Upon graduation, he was invited to create such a department. He took the opportunity and ran the department for its first two years. Williams has maintained links with the college (and with the Royal Northern College of Music [5] in Manchester) ever since.

Classical guitarist

Williams' first professional performance was at the Wigmore Hall in London on 6 November 1958. Since then, he has been performing throughout the world and has made regular appearances on radio and TV. He has extended the repertoire by commissioning guitar concertos from composers such as Stephen Dodgson, André Previn, Patrick Gowers, Richard Harvey and Steve Gray. Williams has recorded albums of duets with fellow guitarists Julian Bream and Paco Peña.

Williams is a visiting professor and honorary member of the Royal Academy of Music [6] in London.

Williams mostly uses Greg Smallman guitars, after using Spanish Fleta during the 1970s. [7]

Thoughts on guitar education and teaching

Williams has expressed his frustration and concern with guitar education and teaching, [8] if it is too one-sided, e.g. focusing only on solo playing, instead of giving guitar students a better education including ensemble playing, sight-reading and a focus on phrasing and tone production and variation. Williams notes that "students [are] preoccupied with fingerings and not notes, much less sounds"; some are able "to play [...] difficult solo works from memory", but "have a very poor sense of ensemble [playing] or timing". He notes that students play works from the solo repertoire that are often too difficult, so that the teachers often put more "emphasis [...] on getting through the notes rather than playing the real substance of each note". To encourage phrasing, tone production and all-around musicianship, Williams arranges for students to play together in ensembles, choosing works from the existing classical music repertoire, such as the "easier Haydn String Quartets".

Other musical genres

Although Williams is best known as a classical guitarist, he has explored many different musical genres. Between 1978 and 1984 he was a member of the fusion group Sky. He is also a composer and arranger. At the invitation of producer Martin Lewis he created a highly acclaimed classical-rock fusion duet with rock guitarist Pete Townshend of The Who on Townshend's anthemic "Won't Get Fooled Again" for the 1979 Amnesty International benefit show The Secret Policeman's Ball . The duet featured on the resulting album and the film version of the show – bringing Williams to the broader attention of the rock audience.

Williams recorded "Cavatina" by Stanley Myers. The piece originally included only the first few measures but, at Williams' request, it was rewritten for guitar and expanded by Myers. After this transformation it was used for a film, The Walking Stick (1970). In 1973, Cleo Laine wrote lyrics and recorded it as the song "He Was Beautiful" accompanied by Williams. The guitar version became a worldwide hit single when it was used as the theme tune to the Oscar-winning film The Deer Hunter (1978).

Personal life

Williams and his third wife, artist Kathy Panama (who married on New Year's Eve 2000), [9] reside in London (Hampstead) & Cornwall. He has a daughter Kate Williams, now an established jazz pianist. [10] He also has a son, Charlie, by his second wife, the presenter Sue Cook. sad


Awards and recognitions

Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance

BRIT Award for Best Classical Recording

British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors

He was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1980 [12] , and an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in the 1987 Australia Day Honours, "For service to music". [13] [14]

See also

Further reading

Related Research Articles

Classical guitar

The classical guitar is a member of the guitar family used in classical music. An acoustic wooden string instrument with strings made of gut or nylon, it is a precursor of the modern acoustic and electric guitars, both of which use metal strings. Classical guitars are derived from the Spanish vihuela and gittern in the fifteenth and sixteenth century, which later evolved into the seventeenth and eighteenth century Baroque guitar and later the modern classical guitar in the mid nineteenth century.

Isaac Albéniz Spanish composer (1860–1909)

Isaac Manuel Francisco Albéniz y Pascual was a Spanish virtuoso pianist, composer, and conductor. He is one of the foremost composers of the Post-Romantic era who also had a significant influence on his contemporaries and younger composers. He is best known for his piano works based on Spanish folk music idioms.

Andrés Segovia Spanish guitarist

Andrés Segovia Torres, 1st Marquis of Salobreña was a virtuoso Spanish classical guitarist from Linares, Spain. Many professional classical guitarists today were students of Segovia, or students of his students. Segovia's contribution to the modern-romantic repertoire not only included commissions but also his own transcriptions of classical or baroque works. He is remembered for his expressive performances: his wide palette of tone, and his distinctive musical personality, phrasing and style.

The 15th Annual Grammy Awards were held on March 3, 1973, and were the first to be broadcast live on CBS, after the first two ceremonies were on ABC. CBS has been the TV home for the Grammy Awards ever since. The awards recognized accomplishments by musicians from the year 1972. The ceremony this year was held in Nashville, Tennessee; others before or since have been held in either New York City or Los Angeles.

Paco Peña

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William Ingham Brooke Bennett, is a British flute player, born on 7 February 1936 in London to parents who were both architects.

Cataluña, Op. 47, No. 2, is a composition by Isaac Albéniz. It premiered as a piano performance in Paris in January 1899. Since it has been transcribed for classical guitar by Miguel Llobet, it has become one of the staples of classical guitar music. It has been performed and recorded by guitarists such as Julian Bream, John Williams, Milos Janjic, Charles Mokotoff and many others. It is usually played in the key of G minor.

Julian Bream English classical guitarist and lutenist

Julian Alexander Bream was an English classical guitarist and lutenist. Regarded as one of the most distinguished classical guitarists of the 20th century, he played a significant role in improving the public perception of the classical guitar as a respectable instrument. Over the course of a career that spanned more than half a century, Bream helped revive interest in the lute.

Guitar solo

A guitar solo is a melodic passage, instrumental section, or entire piece of music written for a classical guitar, electric guitar or an acoustic guitar. In 20th and 21st century traditional music and popular music such as blues, swing, jazz, jazz fusion, rock and metal, guitar solos often contain virtuoso techniques and varying degrees of improvisation. Guitar solos on classical guitar, which are typically written in musical notation, are also used in classical music forms such as chamber music and concertos.

Ferdinando Carulli

Ferdinando Maria Meinrado Francesco Pascale Rosario Carulli was an Italian composer for classical guitar and the author of the influential Méthode complète pour guitare ou lyre, op. 27 (1810), which contains music still used by student guitarists today. He wrote a variety of works for classical guitar, including numerous solo and chamber works and several concertos. He was an extremely prolific writer, composing over 400 works for the instrument.

David Russell is a classical guitarist. He plays Matthias Dammann guitars. Widely known for his near flawless tone and diverse repertoire, Russell is one of the most distinguished and accomplished classical guitarists in the world.

Introduction and Variations on a Theme by Mozart (Sor)

Introduction and Variations on a Theme by Mozart, Op. 9, is one of Fernando Sor's most famous works for guitar. It was first published in London in 1821 and dedicated to Sor's brother Carlos.

Granada is a composition by Isaac Albéniz, composed before 1900.

Sevilla is a composition by Isaac Albéniz. Albeniz premiered Sevilla himself in a piano performance on 24 January 1885 and dedicated it to the wife of Count Morphy. Since it has been transcribed for classical guitar it has become one of the most important works of the classical guitar repertoire. It has been played and recorded by guitarists such as Julian Bream and John Williams and many others. It is generally played in the key of G major.

Cadiz is a composition by Isaac Albéniz, originally written for piano. After the composer's death, his publisher included it in an enlarged edition of the Suite española. The suite comprises pieces with geographical titles; in this case the title refers to the Spanish city of Cádiz or its province.

Mallorca, Op 202 or Majorca is a composition by Isaac Albéniz. Since it has been transcribed for classical guitar it has become an important work for the classical guitar repertoire. It has been played and recorded by guitarists such as Julian Bream and John Williams and many others. It is generally played in the key of D minor. John Williams once said "I'd like to play Mallorca, a piece depicting a mysterious, beautiful island with a Moorish influence."

Tango in D, Op. 165, No. 2, is a composition by Isaac Albéniz. It was originally written for piano, as part of the suite España, Op. 165 (1890).

Torre Bermeja (Albéniz)

Torre Bermeja is a musical work by the Spanish composer Isaac Albéniz. It was published in a set of piano pieces, his 12 Piezas características, Op.92. The title means "vermilion tower". There are towers of this name at the Alhambra, but Albeniz's piece is believed to be named after the Torre Bermeja, a defensive structure on the Playa de la Barrosa in the Province of Cadiz.

Rumores de la Caleta, Op. 71, No. 6, is a composition by Isaac Albéniz. The piece is subtitled "Malagueña".

This is the discography for Australian-British guitarist John Christopher Williams. In the following list, compilations or re-editions are denoted by (C) after the album title.


  1. "Music World" . Retrieved 11 January 2014.
  2. Dalya Alberge, "John Williams says guitar maestro Andrés Segovia bullied students and stifled their creativity", The Observer, 14 October 2012.
  3. The International Who's Who: 1984/85, 2004.
  4. Paul Vernon Chester, Manouche Maestro: "Leonard Williams Guitarist – Journalist – Zoo Keeper and father of John Williams" Archived 1 November 2013 at . Retrieved 1 November 2013.
  5. "John Williams, Guitar: Biography 1940s, 1950s, 1960s". Retrieved 10 November 2015.
  6. "Guitar staff". Royal Academy of Music. Retrieved 11 December 2010.
  7. Joel McIver, "Classical Mover", Acoustic magazine.
  8. "John Williams Interview with Austin Prichard-Levy". The Twang Box Dynasty. Archived from the original on 25 August 2007.
  9. Starling, William (2012). Strings Attached: The Life and Music of John Williams. Biteback Publishing. ISBN   9781849544788.
  10. "Homepage". Retrieved 10 November 2015.
  11. "Gold Badge Awards 2012 in pictures - M Magazine". M magazine: PRS for Music online magazine. 23 October 2012. Retrieved 19 January 2018.
  12. "No. 48212". The London Gazette (Supplement). 14 June 1980. p. 12.
  13. "Mr John Christopher WILLIAMS, OBE". Australian Honours Search Facility. Australian Government, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Retrieved 12 February 2021.
  14. "Commonwealth of Australia Gazette Special No. S 10, Monday, 26 January 1987, page 2" (PDF). Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia (old website). Commonwealth of Australia. Retrieved 12 February 2021. Archived 12 March 2020 at the Wayback Machine