One of my favorite pianists, Roger Williams, passed away this past weekend at age 87. I was fortunate enough to have attended one of his live performances at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California, in 2007. Even in his 80s Roger still managed to put together a stunning piano performance showcasing his great improvising skills and styles at that Christmas concert.
Many first heard his great playing with the 1955 hit “Autumn Leaves.” Roger was a master of piano improvisation; he could easily take a request of multiple songs and blend them together in a nice medley using all kinds of runs and fillers and with spectacular ornaments and tricks. “Autumn Leaves” was among one of the songs I taught in the "Play Piano With Fake Book" Series 2 DVD course. I arranged the song to sound more ballad-like with many runs.
Williams is mentioned as one of the best pianists of the last century. With a repertoire of more than 10,000 song and more than 100 albums, he played the piano for eight U.S. presidents during his career.
The thing I like most about his piano playing was his ability to improvise among different genres of music. I also appreciated his piano techniques, working with jazz improvisation and weaving in personal narratives between songs. From a musical standpoint he was very technically adept and prolific. As a great fan of his I know he put in extra details and attentions to every song he performed. He cared about his listeners and went the extra mile to put together a great piano recital for his listeners.