James Williams Is Messenger for His Mentor : Jazz: The pianist, who plays in Seal Beach tonight, applies what he learned. 'The music is still the star,' he says.

Pianist James Williams, who appears with bassist Richard Reid tonight at Spaghettini, spent nearly five years with drummer Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers in the late '70s and early '80s, in editions that featured a young trumpeter named Wynton Marsalis, among others.

Since then, Williams has released a bevy of fine albums under his own name, including three dates with his Magical Trio and the CD "James Williams Meets the Saxophone Masters," which includes fellow Blakey alumnus Billy Pierce plus Joe Henderson and George Coleman. His new album, "Talkin' Trash," which includes trumpeter Clark Terry, is set for release later this month.

"(Blakey) groomed us not only in our musical craft, but as professional musicians who would become distinguished leaders ourselves," Williams explains.

The New York-based musician, who does jazz promotion and education in New York, does his former boss proud.

"The music is still the star," he says. "We try to bring together all the ingredients of the musical diet without the junk food. What we play is real and nourishing."

* James Williams and Richard Reid play tonight at Spaghettini, 3005 Old Ranch Parkway, Seal Beach, 7 p.m. No cover. (310) 596-2199.

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