John Williams (guitarist)

John Williams (guitarist) bigraphy, stories - Classical guitarist

John Williams (guitarist) : biography

24 April 1941 –

John Christopher Williams (born 24 April 1941) is an Australian classical guitarist and long-term resident of the United Kingdom. In 1973, he shared a Grammy Award win in the Best Chamber Music Performance category with Julian Bream for Julian and John (Works by Lawes, Carulli, Albéniz, Granados). He is renowned for a technique often described as virtually flawless. Guitar historian Graham Wade has said ‘… John is perhaps the most technically accomplished guitarist the world has seen….’

Awards and recognitions

Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance

  • Julian Bream & John Christopher Williams for Julian and John (Works by Lawes, Carulli, Albéniz, Granados) (1973)

BRIT Award for Best Classical Recording

  • John Williams for Portrait of John Williams (1983)

Edison lifetime achievement award (2007)


John Williams was born on 24 April 1941 in Melbourne, Australia to an English father, Len Williams, who was later the founder of the London Guitar School, and Malaan (née Ah Ket), an Australian-Chinese mother (a daughter of Melbourne barrister William Ah Ket). In 1952, the family relocated to England. Williams was taught initially by his father and educated at the Friern Barnet Grammar School, London.The International Who’s Who: 1984/85, 2004 From the age of eleven he attended summer courses with Andrés Segovia at the Accademia Musicale Chigiana in Siena, Italy. Later, he attended the Royal College of Music in London from 1956 to 1959, studying piano because the school did not have a guitar department at the time. Upon graduation, he was offered the opportunity to create such a department. He took the opportunity and ran the department for its first two years. Williams has maintained links with the college (and with the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester) ever since.

Classical guitarist

Williams’s first professional performance was at the Wigmore Hall in London on 6 November 1958. Since then, he has been performing throughout the world and has made regular appearances on radio and TV. He has extended the repertoire by commissioning guitar concertos from composers such as Stephen Dodgson, André Previn, Patrick Gowers, Richard Harvey and Steve Gray. He has recorded albums of duets with fellow guitarists Julian Bream and Paco Peña.

Williams is a visiting professor and honorary member of the Royal Academy of Music in London.

Personal life

Williams and his third wife Kathy reside in London and Australia. He has a daughter Kate, now an established jazz pianist, from his first marriage (to Lindy); and a son, Charlie Williams, from his second marriage (to broadcaster Sue Cook). He is a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign

Thoughts on guitar education and teaching

Williams has expressed his frustration and concern with guitar education and teaching, if it is too one-sided, e.g. focusing only on solo playing, instead of giving guitar students a better education including ensemble playing, sight-reading and a focus on phrasing and tone production/variation. Williams notes that "students [are] preoccupied with fingerings and not notes, much less sounds"; some are able "to play […] difficult solo works from memory", but "have a very poor sense of ensemble [playing] or timing". He notes that students play works from the solo repertoire that is often still too difficult, so that the teachers often put more "emphasis […] on getting through the notes rather than playing the real substance of each note". To encourage phrasing, tone production and all-round musicianship, Williams arranges for students to play together in ensembles, choosing works from the existing classical-music repertoire, such as the "easier Haydn String Quartets".