Patrick Williams, 79, Composer as Heard on TV (and Beyond), Is Dead
Aug. 9, 2018
Patrick Williams conducting the trumpeter Clark Terry and other musicians at a session in New York in 1962, shortly after Mr. Williams moved there.
Patrick Williams, who wrote Grammy Award-winning arrangements as well as Emmy Award-winning scores for hit television shows like “Columbo,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “Lou Grant,” died on July 25 in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 79.
His wife, Catherine Greer Williams, said the cause was complications of cancer.
Mr. Williams blended jazz, classical and pop in arrangements that were wholly his own. And in composing for about 200 films and television shows, he harnessed his versatility in creating scores that could be stirring or menacing, understated or dramatic, playful or dignified.
“I’ve done every kind,” he told Investor’s Business Daily in 2003. “None of them do I approach as a genre. You need to find out what it’s about — what are the emotions of the film.”
Anyone who watched television from the 1970s through the early 2000s had a fair chance of encountering Mr. Williams’s work. He wrote music for “The Bob Newhart Show,” “The Streets of San Francisco,” “The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd,” “The Simpsons” and “Monk,” among others, and for more than 100 television movies.
He was nominated for 22 Emmys and won four. His background music for the “Mary Tyler Moore Show” spinoff “Lou Grant” won him the Emmy for outstanding music composition for a series; he also wrote the show’s title theme.
Music aficionados also knew Mr. Williams as a prolific arranger. He wrote for stars like Neil Diamond, Natalie Cole, Gloria Estefan, Bette Midler and Barbra Streisand. He also arranged and conducted “Duets” and “Duets II,” Frank Sinatra’s last studio recordings.
Mr. Williams found time to record more than a dozen albums of his own and write 30 works for combinations of orchestras, big bands and jazz soloists. He was nominated for 19 Grammys and won for his arrangements of “Threshold” (1973), a jaunty jazz number anchored by Tom Scott on tenor saxophone and flute, and “Suite Memories” (1986), which featured the trombone of Bill Watrous (who died last month) over a symphony orchestra.
Mr. Williams was also nominated for an Academy Award for his adaptation of classical melodies for the score for “Breaking Away” (1979), Peter Yates’s coming-of-age film with Dennis Christopher and Dennis Quaid.
Mr. Williams in a Los Angeles recording studio in 2010. He blended jazz, classical and pop in arrangements that were wholly his own.Alex J. Berliner
His music appeared in more than 20 other movies, including Jonathan Demme’s “Swing Shift” (1984), with Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn, and “Cry-Baby” (1990), John Waters’s warped take on a 1950s teenage romance, which starred Johnny Depp.
Mr. Williams told The Los Angeles Times in 1990 that his goal for all his music was the same: “Whether it’s concert music or commercial music, if it doesn’t reach out and touch an audience, then I just don’t know what I’m doing.”
Patrick Moody Williams was born in Bonne Terre, Mo., on April 23, 1939, to Wilson and Jean (Murphy) Williams. His father was an oil executive, and the family moved to Connecticut when Patrick was 10.
He graduated from Darien High School in 1957 and earned a history degree from Duke University in 1961. Although he was always passionate about music, his wife said, his parents hoped he would find a more practical profession. He never did.
After moving to New York City, he married Catherine Greer in 1962. A health insurance underwriter, she supported him at first, but he eventually found lucrative employment writing music for advertising jingles.
By the late 1960s he had tired of advertising work. Inspired by Henry Mancini, the prodigious composer remembered for films like “The Pink Panther” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and TV shows like “Peter Gunn,” Mr. Williams moved to California to try his luck writing music for movies. After hearing some of his work, Mr. Mancini and his wife, Ginny, helped him get one of his earliest jobs, for the 1968 James Garner-Debbie Reynolds comedy “How Sweet It Is!”
His albums as a leader include “Sinatraland,” a collection of instrumental renditions of standards sung by Sinatra. His orchestral works include “Theme for Earth Day” and “Spring Wings.” In the mid-1980s he founded Soundwings, a record label that released records by Mr. Watrous, Mr. Scott and others.
In addition to his wife, with whom he lived in Los Angeles, he is survived by a sister, Katherine Morgan; a brother, Christopher; two daughters, Elizabeth Austin and Greer Williams; a son, Patrick; and five grandchildren.
Mr. Williams told Investor’s Business Daily that the secret behind his prolific output was relaxing, since writer’s block “stems from anxiety and perfectionism.”
“If your goals are so high that you want to see the results immediately, you’re going to hit writer’s block real hard,” he said. “I start slow and easy. I sketch out ideas, think about them, I go for a drive, I play tennis — I just don’t allow myself to sit there.”
Kitty Bennett contributed research.
Follow Daniel E. Slotnik on Twitter: @dslotnik