In late 1995, the late Milt Fillius Jr., Hamilton College class of '44 and Life Trustee, launched a project to gather videotaped interviews with America's great jazz artists. Milt was a true fan of jazz and counted many musicians as his friends, including Joe Williams," remembers Monk Rowe. Upon Joe's passing, Joe's wife Jillean made a generous gift to the Archive of significant memorabilia, including reel to reel tapes that I later discovered contained these historical recordings of Joe and Ben."
As pianist Junior Mance recalls: Joe Williams and our group had a week engagement at a club in Providence, RI. The town was hit by a blizzard, but we still had to show up and play. When we got to the club, sitting there with his saxophone was Ben Webster and he joined us for a few sets."
The intimate and warm feeling of the sparsely-attended, small Rhode Island nightclub on a cold, snowy winter night is palatable upon the very first listen to Havin' A Good Time! The quintet opens with Just A Sittin' And A Rockin'," establishing a gently, swinging groove that would characterize the evening. The small, but hip, audience was undoubtedly in for a magical night of music they wouldn't soon forget. Williams and company continued with the classic Kansas City Blues," highlighting the exemplary blues piano style of Junior Mance. Ben Webster also digs in for a few bars. His big and gorgeous tone conveys more in a few notes than most could convey in a night's worth of solos. Performed by request, a one off reading of the classic That's All" justifies Joel Dorn's assertion in the album's liner notes that Ben was the guy who dove deeper into the heart and soul of the jazz ballad than anyone before, during or since." Meanwhile, throughout course of the evening, Williams is the epitome of the grace and elegance for which he's so revered, particularly on versions of Alone Together," The Great City," and Ain't Misbehavin'."
With the discovery of the tapes that would become Havin' A Good Time!, yet another historical document in jazz history has been preserved for the ages. The pairing of Joe Williams and Ben Webster was a once in a lifetime occurrence. But the historical value of the recordings is only part of the story. What really matters is the timeless music that these five musicians created together on a random night in a random town. Whether there had been five people in attendance or 300 people wouldn't have mattered. The tempo, song selection and energy would have varied, but the heart, soul and empathy for the human condition that Joe Williams, Ben Webster, Junior Mance, Bob Cranshaw and Mickey Roker communicated through music is what makes these performances as relevant today as the evening they occurred. As Joel Dorn declared, Thank God somebody was runnin' a tape."