a black-and-white headshot of Mars Williams with his trademark sunglasses, bleached hair, and narrow soul-patch-style beard
Photographer Jim Newberry is selling prints of this portrait of Mars Williams and donating the proceeds to Williams’s medical fund. Newberry’s credit below is linked to the sales page. Credit: Jim Newberry

Chicago saxophonist Mars Williams has been a key part of the international avant-garde jazz community for decades, but he’s arguably even better known as a pop musician—he played with cheeky new-wave band the Waitresses in the early 80s, and he’s recorded and toured with the Psychedelic Furs on and off since 1983. His jazz gigs have included Hal Russell’s wild and wooly NRG Ensemble (which Williams led after Russell’s death in 1991), long-running free-improv group Extraordinary Popular Delusions, and a beloved Christmastime project that grew out of his Albert Ayler homage Witches & Devils.

In the mid-90s, Gossip Wolf was just a junior jazzbo and had only heard Williams through his recordings. In January 1997, though, Williams played on the front line of Peter Brötzmann’s magnificent Chicago Octet for a gig and live recording at Empty Bottle, and watching him fire off blistering solos alongside Brötzmann and fellow saxophonist Ken Vandermark made this wolf a maniacal and permanent fan. 

Sadly, in December 2022, Williams was diagnosed with ampullary cancer, a rare form of the disease that affects an area near the bile duct and pancreas. He soon underwent a major surgery that required a three-week hospital stay, and in March he began a six-month course of chemotherapy that’s made it impossible for him to return to performing. Though Williams does have health insurance, he’s also a lifelong musician, which tends to translate to “not much in the way of savings”—and insurance rarely protects Americans from ruinous medical bills. Williams’s friends have organized a GoFundMe campaign to help him afford those expensive cancer drugs and offset a total loss of income that’s estimated to last nine months or more. If you’d like to help, you can donate at gofundme.com/f/marswilliams. Get well soon, Mars! 

This wolf also has some cheerier news about Mars Williams: he’s the recipient of the 2023 Elastic Arts Achievement Award. Williams will be honored Saturday, May 13, as part of Elastic’s fifth annual benefit, which doubles as a 25th-anniversary celebration for the irreplaceable cultural institution. The entertainment on deck includes a solo set from guitarist Jeff Parker and music by pianist and vocalist Sharon Udoh, as well as a silent auction where supporters can bid (in person or online) on a dizzying varieties of goodies, among them a Lewis Achenbach live painting of Williams’s group Witches & Devils performing at Hungry Brain, an Art Institute tour guided by associate curator Robyn Farrell, and a bundle of Drag City records and books. The night’s events will be livestreamed as well, though if you prefer to experience them that way you’ll have to provide your own food and drink!

Jim Sikora is shooting videos for two UltraBomb songs, including “Stickman vs Hangman,” at Saturday’s show.

Musically inclined cinephiles might remember local filmmaker Jim Sikora from his grimy 90s narrative features Walls in the City and Bullet on a Wire (both of which feature Jesus Lizard front man David Yow) and his 40-minute portrait of the friendship between Minutemen bassist Mike Watt and Saccharine Trust singer Jack Brewer, the 2000 short film My Char-Broiled Burger With Brewer. Sikora also has a long history directing music videos for powerhouse rock bands, among them Urge Overkill, Tar, Pegboy, and Eleventh Dream Day. He tells Gossip Wolf that on Saturday, May 13, he’ll be at Reggies Rock Club shooting two music videos for UltraBomb, a new transatlantic supergroup featuring former Hüsker Dü bassist Greg Norton. The band is playing a concert that starts at 7:30 PM, but Sikora recommends fans arrive early (doors open at 6:30), because he and his crew will be “filming in and around the club before and during the show.” They’re working on videos for the UltraBomb songs “Bang Punk” and “Stickman vs Hangman.”

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