Natalie Wil­liams looks for­ward to singing with Ron­nie Scott’s Al­ls­tars over the week­end

Natalie Wil­liams has sung with Goldie and Incog­nito, but she will be rep­re­sent­ing London’s fa­mous jazz club in Cork, writes

Irish Examiner - Supplement - - GUINNES CORK JAZZ FESTIVAL - El­lie O’Byrne

NATALIE Wil­liams came home from school at the age of 14 and told her fa­ther that she was go­ing to be a jazz singer. “He was over the moon,” the singer-song­writer re­calls.

A lot of par­ents might not be so thrilled at the thought of their child choos­ing life as a mu­si­cian, a path that’s no­to­ri­ously tough and strewn with ca­su­al­ties, but Wil­liams’ fa­ther, the English poet John Hart­ley Wil­liams, was an avid jazz fan.

The prompt for Wil­liams’ pro­nounce­ment to her fa­ther was a jazz work­shop with singer Marisa Turner that had been held at school that day. “I re­mem­ber she just said, now we’re go­ing to do this thing called im­pro­vis­ing,” Wil­liams says. “Ev­ery­one was go­ing, ‘I don’t want to do it.’ For some rea­son, I took to it quite eas­ily; I just went, ‘oh yeah, I think I can do this.’ I think it was all the jazz we lis­tened to at home.”

Wil­liams has had a life in mu­sic pretty much ever since, although it hasn’t all been jazz. For the past decade, her monthly Soul Fam­ily Sun­days res­i­dency at famed London jazz club Ron­nie Scott’s has sold out. She has toured with acid-jazz band Incog­nito, and her first two solo al­bums were firmly within the R&B/Soul tra­di­tion, earn­ing her a MOBO (Mu­sic Of Black Ori­gin) Award nom­i­na­tion.

“Most peo­ple de­cide on one thing and stick to that, but I’m not very good at that,” she says. “I grew up lis­ten­ing to a lot of straight jazz, peo­ple like Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzger­ald. But I’ve never wanted to be lim­ited by genre.”

Wil­liams has re­leased four solo al­bums, and is a fre­quent col­lab­o­ra­tor with other mu­si­cians across a range of gen­res; she has recorded with UK DJs Nu:Tone, and Goldie.

“I love him, and he’s al­ways been so lovely and com­pli­men­tary to me, but I’m not go­ing to lie, he’s a nut­case in the stu­dio,” she says of record­ing with Goldie. “He’ll scream through the vo­cal booth win­dow and pull faces and con­duct and bounce around, and you have to in­ter­pret what he means. Once he was just shout­ing, ‘Own it! Own it!’ and I was go­ing, ‘I’m try­ing.’

“I came in the next day and there was a pile of sat­sumas in the stu­dio with lit­tle faces drawn on and speech bub­bles with ‘own it’ com­ing out of their mouths.”

One thing that Wil­liams cer­tainly owns is her Soul Fam­ily Sun­days res­i­dency at Ron­nie Scott’s in Soho, where she per­forms with a ten-piece soul band and a stag­ger­ing ar­ray of guest per­form­ers.

The fabled jazz club has a spe­cial place in Wil­liams’ heart. Mov­ing to Eng­land from her par­ents’ home in Ber­lin at 19, Wil­liams stud­ied at the Guild Hall School of Mu­sic and Drama:

“Ron­nie’s used to give mu­si­cians a dis­counted ticket, which was great as a poor stu­dent. I used to go down and lis­ten to all my he­roes play.”

Years later, bassist Sam Burgess, a fel­low Guild Hall grad­u­ate, would put Wil­liams’ name for­ward to au­di­tion at Ron­nie Scott’s. A decade in, Wil­liams says that play­ing the leg­endary club, she’s con­stantly aware that she’s walk­ing in the foot­steps of some of the great­est singers of the 20th and 21st cen­turies.

“You never for­get it,” she says. “The club is full of th­ese amaz­ing pho­to­graphs of peo­ple who’ve played there, and there’s some­thing in the air there: peo­ple feel it when they come in. I’ve had in­cred­i­ble nights. One gig, Quincy Jones rocked up while we were play­ing.”

Wil­liams has ap­peared once be­fore at the Guin­ness Cork Jazz Fes­ti­val, but is de­lighted to re­turn with the Ron­nie Scott Al­ls­tars, with whom she lends her rich and ver­sa­tile voice to a set she says is “for proper, old-school jazz lovers.”

“We’re also go­ing to run some jam ses­sions while we’re in Cork,” she says. “Any­thing can hap­pen with that, so it’s re­ally fun. We’ve toured a lot to­gether, and the mu­si­cians are all in­cred­i­bly ver­sa­tile, so they can adapt to who­ever they’re play­ing with. It’s a re­ally lovely group of mu­si­cians. Lucky, lucky me!”

Ron­nie Scott’s Al­ls­tars ap­pear in a Dou­ble Bill with Scott Hamil­ton & The Champian Ful­ton Trio at The Every­man at 2.30pm on Sun­day, Oc­to­ber 29

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