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Best Pianist: Ptah Williams 

Ptah Williams has hands that just don't look as if they should belong to a top-notch jazz-piano player. Not that there's anything wrong with them -- they're just a bit small. And as any keyboard player will tell you, it's certainly an advantage to be able to spread your fingers wide to reach some of those difficult chord changes that come your way in the jazz repertoire.

But if you closed your eyes and just listened to Williams play the piano, you certainly wouldn't think there was any of the 88 keys on the piano he couldn't hit any time he chose -- as often as he wanted to.

Over the past couple of decades, Williams has worked in a variety of different settings on the local jazz scene, from the jazz/fusion of the powerhouse trio Tracer (in the company of the excellent combination of Darrell Mixon on bass and Gary Sykes on percussion) or working in an all-star group backing the likes of Russell Gunn and Greg Tardy to his current focus on solo piano performances. And whether he's playing an electric keyboard and synthesizer or an acoustic piano, Williams is always a treat to hear.

His style is unpredictable; when he performs, there's no way to anticipate the musical direction he might choose to take, and following the twists and turns of his solo runs can be as exciting as a roller coaster. He's got a uniquely percussive style that he dives into -- especially in a solo setting -- and can create enough rhythmic drive to make you forget he's the only person behind the music. But he also has the versatility to work lyrical variations on ballads and the subtlety to play behind vocalists as well.

Williams has gained notoriety on the national jazz scene as well. He's toured internationally with famed sax player Lou Donaldson, reinforcing his reputation as a versatile, accomplished and original pianist, and he continues to grow and develop as a musician. If you're in the Delmar Loop area on a Wednesday evening, make it a point to stop and hear Williams in performance at Riddle's Penultimate Cafe -- or catch him on an early Saturday evening at Turvey's on the Green on Union. And don't worry about the size of Williams' hands. Just enjoy his marvelous ability at the keyboard.

-- Terry Perkins

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