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BEST JAZZ ARTIST Minneapolis 2001 - Irv Williams

Readers' Choice: Happy Apple

He is Mr. Smooth, the dean of local jazzmen, the octogenarian tenor saxophonist who settled here after WWII, and following stints with Fletcher Henderson and Mary Lou Williams. He is the beloved elder statesman, the guy who remembers the Flame, the Key Club, Cassius's Bamboo Room, and countless other bygone spots that once dotted a lost, cool Twin Cities nightscape. And he is the graceful soloist who didn't record a single one of his original compositions until only this year, releasing "Squiggles" on what he says will be his final album, Stop, Look and Listen (Ding Dong Music). There is a good yarn here: Irv Williams found inspiration for the song's hopping, stop-start melody outside his home in West St. Paul. "Last July I noticed a crow had a broken wing," he says. "I watched that crow for all of last summer and this winter, and I just concocted that tune in his honor. He disappeared in March." The number, like the rest of the disc, has the relaxed, playful feel you might expect from a gathering of old friends--the beloved Williams has known most of these cats since they started out in the business. Surprises include a jazz waltz by little-known pianist Rob Resetar ("Spring Thing") and an original bossa nova by an old friend, former Minnesotan Billy Wallace ("Precious"). Come to think of it, those titles could describe the album itself.

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