Jeff Williams was raised in Oberlin, Ohio where he began playing drums at age eight. Self-taught, with the aid of his parents' collection of jazz recordings as a guide, he started playing gigs with local professionals at age fourteen. Jeff's mother, Ann Williams, moved to New York to pursue a jazz singing career when he was nine, introducing him to a number of musicians who would be his early mentors, including drummers Jo Jones, Herb Lovelle, Elvin Jones, and Oliver Jackson. In 1967 Jeff made his recording debut with the psychedelic group Ant Trip Ceremony (Cicadelic).
In 1968 Jeff entered the Berklee College of Music and studied drumming with Alan Dawson. In 1971 he moved to New York and soon became acquainted with Dave Liebman and Richie Beirach, with whom he would form the group Lookout Farm. In 1972 Jeff joined Stan Getz for a two-year stay in groups that included Dave Holland on bass and pianists Hal Galper, Beirach, and Albert Daily. He appeared at the Half Note with Lee Konitz the same year, beginning an association that would continue for several decades. Jeff also recorded Friends (Oblivion) in 1972 with Marc Cohen (now Copland), John Abercrombie, and Clint Houston.
Following the recording of Lookout Farm (ECM) in 1973 Jeff toured Europe, Asia, and the US while also participating in multiple subsequent recordings until the group disbanded in 1976. For the remainder of the '70s Jeff freelanced in and around New York, accompanying such artists as Joe Farrell, Frank Foster, Nick Brignola, Billy Mitchell, and George Coleman, while also performing in groups led by Arnie Lawrence (Treasure Island), Ted Curson, Richard Sussman, and Albert Daily, as well as leading a band that included John Scofield.
After a one-year hiatus in Maine, Jeff moved to Boston in 1981. While resuming study with Alan Dawson, Jeff took part in the formation of a jazz series at Harvard University's Hasty Pudding Club. There he accompanied Cedar Walton, Lee Konitz, Milt Hinton, (saxophonist) Bill Evans, John Scofield, and Miroslav Vitous. From '83 to '86 Jeff performed and recorded with Jerry Bergonzi's quartet Con Brio. Following a return to New York in 1983 Jeff formed the trio Interplay with Peter Madsen and Anthony Cox, toured Japan with pianist Sakurako Ogyu and Marc Johnson, while also performing with Michel Petrucciani, Art Farmer/Clifford Jordan, Randy Brecker/John Abercrombie, and Cecil McBee's quartet. For the majority of 1988 Jeff played with Stan Getz, joined by the Interplay rhythm section, with Kenny Barron later replacing Madsen. In 1990 Jeff initiated a music policy at Bar Room 432, located in the meatpacking district of New York, where he led a trio with Ben Monder and Scott Colley and also performed with Dave Liebman and Joe Lovano.
The first release of a Jeff Williams' composition appeared on Frank Kimbrough's Lonely Woman (Mapleshade) in 1989. The composition, Northwest, also appears on the Larry Willis recording How Do You Keep The Music Playing? (SteepleChase). Jeff began writing for his own ensembles in the mid-eighties, recording Quartet (unreleased) in '89 with Patrick Zimmerli, Kevin Hays, and Scott Colley. Enlarged to a quintet in 1991,with the addition of Tim Ries, and the replacement of Colley with Doug Weiss, the ensemble released two recordings, both comprised entirely of original compositions: Coalescence (SteepleChase) in 1992 and Jazzblues (Cathexis) in 1999.
Jeff's other activities during the nineties included appearances in the US, Europe, Brazil, and Argentina, as well as various recordings, with Lee Konitz; a tour of Europe with Joe Lovano, Tom Harrell, and Anthony Cox; and several tours of Europe and the US with Lovano's Universal Language sextet. In addition to performances with Circadian Rhythms, featuring Tony Malaby and Michael Formanek, Jeff also began playing with Bill McHenry, Ethan Iverson, and Reid Anderson, subsequently recording Live At Smalls (Fresh Sound/New Talent) in 2000, and McHenry's Sonic Pressure (Fresh Sound/New Talent) in 2005. Jeff toured Europe with Paul Bley in 2001.
For the last fifteen years Jeff has been dividing his time between New York and London. He has toured the UK with Bill McHenry (2005), Lee Konitz (2006), and Dave Liebman (in a quartet co-led by British guitarist Phil Robson--2008-09). During 2006-09 Jeff performed throughout Britain with saxophonist Martin Speake and pianist Bobo Stenson in support of Speake's Change of Heart (ECM). He has also appeared in the UK with Nikki Iles, Hans Koller's ensemble (with guest soloists Kenny Wheeler, Bob Brookmeyer, and Evan Parker), Christine Tobin, Bobby Wellins, Julian Arguelles, Ingrid Laubrock, Barry Green, Julian Siegel, Norma Winstone, Kit Downes, Olie Brice, Alex Merritt, Mike Fletcher and Alex Bonney. Recent activities have included a 50+ date tour with Martin Speak and Mike Outram in support of the CD Always a First Time, additional touring with John O'Gallagher, Francois Théberge, Sam Lasserson, and a reunion tour with Tony Malaby organized by bassist Olie Brice.
Jeff's more recent recordings include Richard Sussman Continuum, featuring Randy Brecker and Jerry Bergonzi (Origin), Hans Koller with Bill Frisell Cry Want (psi), Martin Speake Live At Riverhouse (Pumpkin) and Always a First Time (Pumpkin), Nikki Iles Hush (Basho), Mike Gibbs Twelve Play Gil Evans, Lee Konitz, Dan Tepfer, Michael Janisch, Jeff Williams First Meeting (Whirlwind Recordings) and Jeff Williams Another Time and The Listener (Whirlwind Recordings) featuring Jeff's New York-based quartet comprised of Duane Eubanks, John O'Gallagher and John Hébert. That group toured the UK in 2012 and The Listener is a live recording from London's Vortex.
Jeff's UK Quintet (Finn Peters-alto saxophone and flute, Josh Arcoleo-tenor saxophone, Phil Robson-guitar, Sam Lasserson-bass) appeared for three years in a row at the London Jazz Festival and recorded live at the Amazonas Jazz Festival in July 2013. The limited release CD, Concert In The Amazon, is currently out of print. The second release on Williams' Willful Archives label is called Valence and features the trio of Jeff, John O'Gallagher and Sam Lasserson from a live performance in Switzerland.
2015-16 saw Jeff Williams' British based group touring the UK before and after the band recorded Outlier, Jeff's third release on the Whirlwind label. The album features Josh Arocoleo, Phil Robson, Kit Downes and Sam Lasserson, while John O'Gallager was added in live performances.
In April 2018 Whirlwind released Lifelike featuring Jeff's expanded line-up of Gonçalo Marquez, John O'Gallagher, Josh Arcoleo, Kit Downes and Sam Lasserson. The sextet is touring the UK during 2018-19.
Other on-going projects include Jeff's partcipation in bands led by Leo Genovese, Demian Cabaud, Alex Merritt, Mike Fletcher, Olie Brice, Martin Speake and Hans Koller.
In addition to private instruction, Jeff has given master classes, directed ensembles and undertaken one-to-one drum instruction at The New School, Long Island University, the University of Connecticut, and Maine Jazz Camp. In the UK he currently teaches at the Royal Academy Of Music and at Birmingham Conservatoire.
"I've known Jeff Williams since the early 1970s, both as a musician and friend. His wealth of experience is staggering and very deep. His unique spirit is something all jazz students should be exposed to."-Dave Liebman