The teaming of Joe Williams and "The Tonight Show" Orchestra conducted by Doc Severinsen, presented Tuesday and Wednesday at Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena, was an inspiration in at least two ways: It afforded the preeminent male singer of the jazz world a rare chance to be heard locally in a big-band setting, and it allowed the audience to hear in person a band whose appearances are so often confined to five-second playoffs at the end of a routine by a comic or animal trainer.
Since Williams' commanding personality came to worldwide attention during his six years with the Count Basie Orchestra, the juxtaposition of his baritone with a battery of trumpets, trombones and saxophones still provides him with a logical setting that puts him immediately at ease--not that he could ever be less than comfortable with anything this side of an East Asian gamelan band.
Armed with a battery of arrangements by Thad Jones and others, he opened with a charming old song called "That Face" that put the band and the capacity crowd in a relaxed mood that was sustained through his sets in both halves of the concert.
To state that the blues is his forte would imply that he is less than powerfully effective in any other idiom, yet his "Young and Foolish," appropriately slotted after a rowdy band number featuring the drummer Ed Shaughnessy, exemplified his ability to bring out the lyrical and melodic excellence of a warm and tender ballad. Still, the supply of blues was plentiful, among them tributes to Jimmy Rushing and Duke Ellington and, for the finale, a scat chorus or two during the band's "One O'Clock Jump."