Joe Williams was considered by many to be the finest jazz singer of his generation.
Williams' international visibility traces back to his years with the Count Basie Orchestra from 1954 to 1961. With Basie, Williams recorded his hit, "Ev'ry Day I Have the Blues," now a National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame recording.
But Williams had been active in jazz since the late 1930s, with a CBS radio show in 1937, and a succession of performances with Jimmy Noone, Coleman Hawkins and Lionel Hampton. He toured with Andy Kirk in 1946 and '47.
When he was 14, Williams organized a gospel quartet, the Jubilee Temple Boys of the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church, and they sang at many area churches. With his own voice transforming into a rich baritone, he began singing with bands that played for dances for black society on Chicago's South Side.
On his own, Williams' singing blossomed, often via collaborations with artists such as Harry "Sweets" Edison, Julian "Cannonball" Adderley, the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra and occasional Basie reunions.
Williams was a regular at the Playboy Jazz Festival, making 10 appearances, initially at the first festival in Chicago in 1959, and most recently at the Hollywood Bowl in 1996, when he sang in tandem with Tony Bennett.
Recently, he performed to rave reviews at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts with a frequent associate, George Shearing.
"I'm basically doing exactly what I want to do these days," he told The Times in 1995, "You go into a town, you rehearse, you get a bite to eat, you look around a little bit, you get some rest, and then you go out and do a concert. It's a full life."