Patrick Williams, who was best-known for his Emmy-winning television music but who was also a renowned and Grammy-winning big-band jazz leader and arranger, died Wednesday morning of complications from cancer at St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 79.
Williams was among the most versatile composers of his generation, earning an Oscar nomination (for adapting opera in “Breaking Away,” 1979), four Emmys (for dramatic music including “Lou Grant,” 1980) and two Grammys (for arrangements including his classic jazz album “Threshold,” 1974) during more than 50 years of music-making in New York and Los Angeles.
In the middle of his most prolific period, scoring music for TV including “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “The Bob Newhart Show” and “The Streets of San Francisco,” he was also nominated for the prestigious Pulitzer Prize in music for his groundbreaking “An American Concerto” (1976) for jazz quartet and symphony orchestra.
He scored nearly 50 films, often memorable scores for movies that were not big hits, including “Casey’s Shadow,” “The Cheap Detective” and “Cuba” in the 1970s; “Used Cars,” “Swing Shift” and “All of Me” in the 1980s; “Cry-Baby,” “The Grass Harp” and “That Old Feeling” in the 1990s.
But his primary occupation was music for television, which ultimately earned him 22 Emmy nominations for such memorable 1970s and ’80s series as “The Streets of San Francisco,” “Columbo,” “Lou Grant,” and “The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd,” and such notable 1990s telefilms as “Decoration Day,” “Geronimo” and “Kingfish: A Story of Huey P. Long.” His miniseries, all in the ’90s and early ’00s, included “Jewels,” “Jesus,” “Blonde” and “Hercules.”
Williams had the most fun in the recording studio, working with top jazz musicians on both coasts to record contemporary big-band albums. His 19 Grammy nominations were mostly for his jazz compositions and arrangements, starting with the landmark “Threshold” LP and later including albums from his own 1980s Soundwings label featuring saxophonist Tom Scott, trombonist Bill Watrous, and his own big band.
“Pat’s charts have a lyrical quality that makes them fun to play, and they swing like hell,” Scott said in 2010. “Whenever I get a call, ‘Pat Williams needs you,’ I would do anything to be there, whether it was a record or a movie or a TV show.” Added flutist Hubert Laws: “I’ve always had the greatest respect for Pat and his writing ability, with the melody and harmony and rhythm. The spontaneity of it all really intrigues me.” Respected jazz writer Gene Lees once said: “Pat’s writing is breathtaking. He’s just one of the finest arrangers and composers who ever put pen to paper.”
Williams arranged and conducted Frank Sinatra’s final studio recordings, “Duets” I and II in the early 1990s, and later paid tribute to the singer and his favorite tunes in his own 1998 album “Sinatraland.” Williams arranged for a wide variety of other singers including Barbra Streisand, Jack Jones, Natalie Cole, Neil Diamond, Gloria Estefan, Michael Feinstein, Vince Gill, Amy Grant, Patti Austin, Barry Manilow, Monica Mancini and Bette Midler.
He was also highly active in music education, lecturing around the country and serving for five years (2001 to 2006) as artistic director of the Henry Mancini Institute, which trains young musicians for careers in music. Several of Williams’ later orchestral works (including “Adagio for Orchestra,” “Memento Mei” and “August”) debuted during the institute’s annual summer sessions in Los Angeles.
Williams was born April 23, 1939 in Bonne Terre, Mo., graduated from Duke University in 1961 and did post-graduate work at Columbia University. He worked as a composer, arranger and producer in New York before moving to Los Angeles in 1968 to seek work in the film and TV arena.
During the 1970s and ’80s, Williams scored hundreds of episodes of network TV series, variously lending a warm, comic, jazzy or dramatic sound as needed. In his own music for records and the concert hall, he strove to combine jazz and classical elements in a smoother, more organic way than had been previously achieved by most composers.
Williams wrote an estimated 30 concert works including “Gulliver” with narration written by Larry Gelbart, and a ballet, “Ziji”; and jazz concertos for trombonist Bill Watrous, clarinetist Eddie Daniels, saxophonist Tom Scott; and pianist Dave Grusin and saxophonist Gerry Mulligan.
He received an honorary doctorate in fine arts from his alma mater, Duke University, in 2001. His last big-band album, 2015’s “Home Suite Home,” featured long pieces dedicated to his wife Catherine and his three children, Elizabeth, Greer and Patrick, all of whom survive him.
Survivors also include five grandchildren, a brother and a sister. A memorial celebration will be scheduled for later in the year.
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