Bruce Williams Shares His Practice Routine & Sound Development



Bruce Williams hails from Washington, D.C. and has performed, toured, and recorded with a long roster of jazz legends such as: Little Jimmy Scott, Frank Foster, The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Stanley Cowell, Louis Smith, Cecil Brooks III, The Count Basie Orchestra, The World Saxophone Quartet, Russell Gunn, Curtis Fuller, and Roy Hargrove to just name a few. Bruce is a versatile saxophonist who is currently the newest and youngest member, of the internationally recognized jazz group, “The World Saxophone Quartet” as well as a member of a newly founded group by legendary drummer Ben Riley, the “Thelonious Monk Legacy Septet”. In addition to Bruce’s playing, he is a jazz educator and mentor to many young jazz musicians. Bruce is currently a teaching artist at JazzHouse kids, an adjunct professor of saxophone at Bard College, and an ensemble coach at Julliard Conservatory Jazz department. In Addition, Bruce has served as a adjunct saxophone instructor at both the New School for Social Research (Mannes School of Music) in NYC and Princeton University in New Jersey. Bruce has given master classes at Ohio State, Iowa State, The Jazz Institute of New Jersey, The University of the District of Columbia, Princeton University, The New Jersey Performing Arts Center “Jazz For Teens” program, and the Paris Conservatory in France. Most recently, Bruce came out with his new C.D “Private Thoughts” under the Passin’ Thru label owned by Oliver Lake.

The Interview

ZS: What interested you in picking up the saxophone?

BW: My older brother was a tenor sax player so that’s my first influence and then came the family R&B record collection and listening to such artist as Grover Washington Jr, later Bird and Trane

ZS: What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the saxophonist you are today?

BW: My first formal lessons were from DC area musicians Larry Mullins and Howard Burns. I studied saxophone mostly with Dr. Leroy Barton Jr. at the University of the District of Columbia. Later I attended William Paterson College and my sax teachers were Steve Wilson, Joe Lovano, Joe Ford and Gary Smulyan.

ZS: What practice routine or exercises have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability?

BW: I practice a lot of 2&4 note groups, diatonic patterns, arpeggios, chord voicings, long tones loud/soft and with a towel in the bell. Books are Klose, Marcel, Mule, Selected Studies, things I got from Frank Foster, Joe Viola books etc…

ZS: What did you do to find and develop your own sound?

BW: As far as sound goes I just would play a lot and play loudly and softly without breaking up the tone. I would play using various types of vibrato and more or less mouthpiece until I found my personal spot for optimal airflow without fatigue or working too hard. I listened to a lot of vocalist and tried to become more vocal like and then also more digital like a trumpet player or my favorite sax players. I also learned to mimic a lot of different alto players to learn stylistic tendencies and phrasing.

ZS: Who do you find yourself listening to these days?

BW: I go through periods of heavy listening to not at all. It depends on my schedule. I listen most in the car driving or late at night. I’ve been listening to Ornette Coleman again as well as a few Count Basie records. Always Jackie McLean, Gary Bartz, and Arthur Blythe. I’ve been checking out today’s neo soul artist and younger cats on the scene.

ZS: What’s the next musical frontier for you?

BW: My new cd is my current vision. My next project will either be Quartet or duos.

ZS: What is your current setup?



Soprano: Yanagisawa SC901 and s991

Alto: Yanagisawa 991u & Yanagisawa A-W02 with a sterling silver neck

Tenor: Yanagisawa 991u


Soprano: V16 S7

Alto: v16 9S / V16 9S+

Tenor: Vandoren Java T55 or Ted Klum Hard Rubber Mouthpiece


Soprano: V16 2.5

Alto: Java Red 2.5

Tenor: Java Red 2.5 & 3


 Soprano: Vandoren Optimum & M/O aged gold  

Alto: Vandoren Optimum & M/O aged gold  

Tenor: Vandoren Optimum & M/O aged gold  

Repair Shop

Russ Ackerman at Liberty Music

Bruce Williams Video

Bruce Williams at Vandoren Advisory Studio