Floyd Williams: “No Hobbies. Just Music.”
Boston-born Floyd Williams had a long career in jazz, first as a musician and then as an educator. In his home town, the drummer was known by his nickname, “Floogie.” No one around now knows how he got it. Later in his career, people knew him as Floyd Williams.
His Boston story is an intriguing one. As with many artists of past decades who did not achieve great stardom in New York, there are facts about his story we don’t know. We do know he attended Boston public schools, started on piano as a boy, switched to the drums, gigged with friends while still at Roxbury High School, and studied briefly at the New England Conservatory. I have read that Johnny Hodges was his godfather, and I am still looking into that.
Legendary godfather or not, Floogie Williams earned his own recognition as a drummer in the late 1940s, at a time when Boston was incubating an exciting brand of modern jazz. The numerous G.I. Bill students at the music schools were mixing with the local musicians in the clubs clustered around Mass Ave and Columbus Ave. Disc jockey Symphony Sid Torin called this intersection “the jazz corner of Boston.” Williams was a regular on the bandstand at the Sunnyside Cafe, where he worked with saxophonists Sam Rivers and Gigi Gryce. He also played occasionally in the big band of Jimmie Martin, where he met trumpeters Joe Gordon and Lennie Johnson, and Jaki Byard—who played trombone!
Although Williams identified with the modernists, he was equally adept at playing swing. In 1952 he was with Sabby Lewis, who in the 1940s led the most important swing-era band in Boston, and still had plenty of gas in the tank in the early 1950s. Floyd Williams also worked the resort towns in Maine during the summers with pianist and arranger Hi Diggs, also firmly in the swing camp.
Floogie made it to a name band in late 1953, joining the Lionel Hampton Orchestra. He stayed with Hamp about a year. Back in Boston, interest in modern jazz was building to a mid-fifties peak. There were some very good working bands in town, like the house band at the Stable with Joe Gordon, and the sextet of baritone saxophonist Serge Chaloff. Tenor saxophonist Jay Migliori was forming another one, and he needed a drummer. Williams got the job, and for almost two years he anchored Migliori’s groups. The first was a quintet featuring Tommy Ball’s trumpet. The second was a septet, with Bill Berry replacing Ball. Williams and pianist Danny Kent were in both, providing continuity and rhythmic drive.
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