Music

So Awesome It Blows the Brains Out the Back of Your Head

A profile of T.L. Williams

ELLIE MEJIA

ELLIE MEJIA

T.L. Williams was shorter than expected, with an air of barely contained excitement. Perpetually wide-eyed, he looked like he might break out into song at any moment. Williams grew up in an extremely musical family, and spent his childhood surrounded by song. With the aid of arts and music programs in his education, it seemed only natural that he mastered five instruments. He quickly became a master trumpet player, and even studied under Wynton Marsalis. Williams’s lifetime love of music is seen everywhere on his new album, Life in Your Mid-20’s. The album showcases a signature musical mingling of R&B, pop, and rock that has earned him his name in the Chicago music scene.

Williams performed at a recent gathering for music industry veteran Gus Redmond’s birthday party. Redmond is responsible for the production of nearly six hundred hit records from the sixties and seventies onward. His birthday party was celebrated in Chicago’s Home of Chicken and Waffles. Williams played Gus’s favorite song of his, “Gettin’ Mo’ Money Than You.” “I gave him the gift of song!” beamed Williams. At first glance Williams’ constant exhilaration seemed to translate into overconfidence. (That, and he mentioned his own name as a brand multiple times in a before-concert interview.) From the outset, it wasn’t clear that Williams could deliver the “so awesome it blows your brain out the back of your head” performance he had promised.

In the end, though, he came pretty close.

Playing live trumpet lends itself to what Williams calls “luxury problems.” The management often does not think to provide a mic stand for Williams’ trumpet, but he makes the best of it. To applause from the audience he brought on a “human mic stand,” or a woman kind enough to hold the mic in place for his trumpet. “That happened a lot when I was starting out. Sometimes they, [the human mic stands] start dancing,” he said after the show. “I’m like, ‘I love that you’re excited, but stand still! They can’t hear me.’ ”

Williams has the winning trait of making the best of iffy circumstances. The restaurant didn’t have a stage, which didn’t seem to bother him in the slightest. Taking his spot in a small archway next to the kitchen, Williams took command of the show instantly. He took the opportunity to announce “Happy 127th birthday Gus!” before proclaiming, “Let’s get it on in this archway!” He demanded the DJ bump up the track, and barreled into his performance. His trumpet playing was distinctively pop in its bouncy, upbeat sound, but elements of jazz and soul merged emerged in its smoother tones. The bass on the track was undeniably funky with an R&B feel. His smooth voice played into the mix very well. So did the audience’s.  Williams had the crowd on their feet dancing and singing along in matter of seconds—even the wait staff joined in.

After the performance, Redmond clapped Williams on the back and said, “I’ve been working in the music industry for fifty-three years, and T.L. is my superstar.”

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