John Christopher Williams
(born 24 April 1941) is an Australian 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 win in the Best Chamber Music Performance category with Julian Bream for Julian and John (Works by Lawes, Carulli, Albéniz, Granados)
. Williams is noted for a technique that is often described as virtually flawless. Guitar historian Graham Wade has said: "John is perhaps the most technically accomplished guitarist the world has seen...."
John Williams was born on 24 April 1941 in Melbourne, Australia, to an English father, Len Williams, who later founded the London Guitar School, 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. Williams was initially taught guitar by his father who was an accomplished guitarist. From the age of eleven he attended summer courses with Andrés Segovia at the Accademia Musicale Chigiana in Siena, Italy. Later, Williams 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 offered the opportunity 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 in Manchester) ever since.
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 in London.Williams mostly uses Greg Smallman guitars after using Spanish Fleta during the 1970s He also plays a guitar by Paulino Bernabe II.
Thoughts on guitar education and teaching
Williams has expressed his frustration and concern with guitar education and teaching, 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/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 is often still 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-round 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. 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 celebrated 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
Williams and his third wife Kathy reside in London and Australia. He has a daughter Kate, now an established jazz pianist, from his first marriage (to Lindy); and a son, Charlie Williams, from his second marriage (to broadcaster Sue Cook).