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alan williamsAlan Williams’ grandfather died before he was born, and he never knew much about him. It wasn’t until he was 30 years old that he learned the truth. Williams was home on Navy leave playing base tunes, when his mother handed him an album of John Kirby playing jazz, and said, “that’s your grandfather.”

John Kirby was one of the top jazz musicians in the 1930s and 40s, playing with stars like Billie Holiday, and becoming one of the first black artists to host a national jazz-oriented radio series.

Williams wanted to learn more about his grandfather, but he realized a problem. Kirby was mentioned in books, but none told his full story. Williams made the decision to preserve his grandfather’s history. He did extensive research, family interviews, and met with Kirby’s old colleagues, and in 1993, he published his first book: Fall From Grace - The John Kirby Story.

As a result of the book, Kirby’s hometown of Winchester created an annual John Kirby Day and created a memorial plaque in his honor. Nearly 25 years after the release of his first book, Williams completed his second book: John Kirby and his Orchestra: A Phenomenon, Unlike Any Other in Jazz. It showcases how Kirby blended classical music and jazz, creating the “classic jazz” era.

Williams has always had a love of history, but he never imagined he’d be writing books someday. It’s a dream that found him.

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NSO Times 01and02 2019

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