Whit Williams is an iconic Baltimore jazz musician, having been a fixture in the city for over fifty years as a reed player, arranger, and educator. Naturally, he's worked with many greats who have gigged in the city over those years: Lionel Hampton, Sarah Vaughn, Joe Williams, Nancy Wilson, Tony Bennett, Aretha Franklin. Williams' love of jazz and generosity continue to be expressed as a board member of the Jazz Heritage Society of Baltimore, which keeps jazz alive in the community with workshops for school kids featuring jazz legends like Milt Jackson and Max Roach.
Williams founded the "Now's The Time" Big Band in 1981, giving younger Baltimore jazz musicians a place to experience the tradition of classic big band jazz. This record is the first and only recording by the band, giving the jazz world beyond the Washington-Baltimore corridor a chance to hear their youthful jazz voices.
Given Williams' deep jazz roots and many connections, it's no surprise that he also invited a few ringers to play along. Jimmy Heath is a triple-threat, contributing tenor solo work, three original compositions ("This Is What It Is", "Losing Game", and "Without You, No Me"), and one arrangement of Kenny Dorham's "Una Mas". Not to be outdone, Slide Hampton also adds his trombone solo voice, two originals ("A Day In Copenhagen" and "Diana"), and an arrangement of Thelonius Monk's "Little Rootie Tootie". Prolific sideman and recording artist Gary Thomas adds his flute and tenor sax chops to "A Day In Copenhagen". Charlie Young, a professor of saxophone at Howard University in Washington, D.C. and member of the Smithsonian Museum's Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, offers several alto sax choruses on "Without You, No Me."
Taken as a whole, the record is a joyful exposé of traditional big band jazz, blending the voices and experience of jazz veterans with the exuberance of younger players. The horn sections sound good in the ensemble sections, tight but not perfect, which actually gives the band a nice "live" feel even though the entire session was recorded in studio. The trumpets open the first track (Heath's "This Is What It Is") with a big, bright sound that immediately conveys their confidence, which is so crucial to a big band. There is great dynamic range across the tunes, proving once again that a jazz big band can play pretty and mellow as well as explosive and raucous.
To be expected, the solo work by some of the band's regular members is a bit uneven, but still commendable; this is more than balanced by the presence of Williams, Heath, Hampton, Thomas, and Young. The Whit Williams' "Nows The Time" Big Band is a solid contribution to the body of recorded big band jazz.