Mars Williams
Mars Williams Credit: Peter Gannushkin / Downtown Music

Update: November 20, 2023. 6:55 PM. The family of Mars Williams announced that he had succumbed to cancer. The concert will continue as a celebration of life. Rest in peace.

For more than four decades, saxophonist Mars Williams has been a cornerstone of the Chicago jazz scene. In his youth, he studied with the Association for Advancement of Creative Musicians and joined Hal Russell’s NRG Ensemble, which he led after Russell’s death in 1992. Since then, he’s played with fellow jazz luminaries such as Ken Vandermark and Peter Brötzmann, and the long-running groups he’s helped maintain include Albert Ayler tribute outfit Witches & Devils, acid-jazz pioneers Liquid Soul, and ongoing free-improv collective Extraordinary Popular Delusions. That’s an impressive résumé even before you pile on his rock and new-wave work as a member of the Waitresses and the Psychedelic Furs. Williams’s prolificacy can be challenging to keep up with. On his latest release, June’s Critical Mass—his second full-length collaboration with Spanish percussionist Vasco Trilla—he plays sax and miscellaneous toy instruments, creating a playful, meditative sensibility that shows off the musicians’ impressive ranges and gives the listener space to wander freely. 

As reported by Gossip Wolf in May, last December Williams was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Surgery and medical treatments have kept him off the boards for the better part of a year, and like many hard-working musicians facing serious illnesses, he needs financial support to keep the wolves away from the door. Longtime collaborator Dave Rempis started a GoFundMe for Williams that has reached its initial $100,000 goal—but more help is of course still welcome as expenses mount.

This all-star event is a fundraiser and celebration of Williams’s work and accomplishments. Opening the night are jazz fusion and jam outfit the Joe Marcinek Band and Liquid Soul cofounder DJ Jesse De La Peña; for the headlining set, Williams takes the stage with Liquid Soul. The evening will feature guest appearances from Ike Reilly, Jeff Coffin of the Dave Matthews Band, Richard Fortus of Guns N’ Roses, and three members of Psychedelic Furs, including front man Richard Butler. It’s an eclectic lineup that spans eras and genres, and the fact that these players are all gathering in the same room to support their friend is a testament not just to Williams’s musical versatility but also to his beloved spirit.

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Music for Mars A fundraiser for Mars Williams’s cancer treatment. Liquid Soul (featuring Mars Williams) headline; the Joe Marcinek Band and Jesse De La Peña open. Special guests include Richard Butler, Zachary Alford, and Rich Good of the Psychedelic Furs; Jeff Coffin of the Dave Matthews Band; Richard Fortus of Guns N’ Roses; and Ike Reilly. Sat 11/25, 8 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark, $35, $30 in advance, $150 table for two, 18+