Famous Guitarists – The Story of John Williams

Leonard Williams emigrated to Australia in the late 1930s where he met Marlaan, a Chinese/Australian, daughter of a well known Melbourne barrister through their mutual love of jazz, and later married her. Len was a respected jazz guitarist who gradually turned towards the classical style. John Christopher Williams was born on the 24th of April, 1941 in Melbourne and when he was four got his first guitar, but real lessons did not begin for another two or three years. Because of his fathers obsession with classical guitar he refused to allow any other form of playing which is something John sometimes regrets to this day.

The family returned to Britain in 1952 for two reasons. Len wanted to start a guitar school, which he did and was very successful, the «Spanish Guitar Centre» continues his work today. Having recognised his sons talent, he wanted him to be taught by the best possible teachers and this was not possible in Australia. Coming back to London was obviously the right thing to do and John was educated at the Frier Barnet Grammar School

Through a friend they met Andres Segovia during a visit to London and the maestro was «very impressed» with the 11 year old and arranged for him to attend his summer school at The Academia Musicale Chigiama di Sienna in Italy which he did until 1959.

The first time John really tasted success was when he was given the honor, on the instigation of his fellow students, of giving the first solo recital by a student of any instrument in 1955.

While he was not in Sienna Williams attended the Royal College of Music from 1956 – 1959 where he, like Julian Bream, studied piano and composition because the college didn’t have a guitar department. However one was formed and upon his graduation John was asked to run it. This he did until 1973 and still maintains a relationship with it to this day.

By the early sixties Williams had performed in the US, Russia, Japan, Paris, Madrid and London. Since then he has toured the world playing solo and with orchestras and has performed on TV and radio many times.

He has often said that he prefers to play with other people, one being his friend Julian Bream; Williams says they know one another’s playing so well that together they create «Magic».

Although he is mainly known as a classical guitarist, John Williams has explored many other styles. He has collaborated with Julian Bream, Paco Pena and was a founder member of SKY, he is also a composer and arranger and has commissioned guitar concertos from composers such as Andre Previn and Stephen Dodgson. He has also worked with Australian composers to produce guitar music that would help to capture the spirit of his native country.

He had a worldwide hit single with Cavatina by Stanley Myers who originally wrote it for a film called ‘The Walking Stick’ in 1970. John Williams asked Myers to expand it and write it for the guitar. In its new mode Cavatina was used as the beautiful theme music for the Oscar winning film ‘The Deer Hunter’ in 1979. Cleo Laine wrote lyrics to it and ‘He was Beautiful’ was recorded by her accompanied by John on the guitar.

He has played for films, The Deer Hunter and A Fish Called Wanda to name but two. He also plays tennis, badminton, chess, table tennis and enjoys talking about «anything». He has been married three times and has a daughter Kate who is a jazz pianist from his first marriage and a boy Charlie to his second wife Sue Cook the well known broadcaster. He lives in London and has a house in Australia.

Think you could be the next John Williams? How about some classical guitar lessons?

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