Proficiency in composing for symphony orchestras as well as jazz bands has offered Williams an opportunity to create a wide variety of works. Among his critically acclaimed compositions are An American Concerto, a piece featuring a jazz quartet and symphony orchestra, for which he received a 1977 Pullitzer Prize nomination; Gulliver, featuring a symphony orchestra with narrator, for which he received a Grammy nomination (narration by Larry Gelbart and performed by Sir John Gielgud); Suite Memories, which features a solo trombone with symphony orchestra and won a Grammy award; Theme for Earth Day, an overture, recorded by the Boston Pops; Spring Wings, a double concerto written by saxophonist Gerry Mulligan and pianist Dave Grusin with symphony orchestra; Romances, a concerto for jazz saxophonist Tom Scott and orchestra; A Concerto in Swing for big band and clarinet, which was dedicated to and premiered by Eddie Daniels; Adagio for Orchestra composed in 2004; and August composed in 2005. He recently completed a ballet, Ziji, with choreographer Edgar Zendejas to honor the 60th Anniversary of the College of the Fine Arts at the University of Utah.
Some of Williams’ big band recordings are considered classics of contemporary big band instrumentals, such as Threshold for which he received a Grammy in 1974; Too Hip for the Room, for which he received a Grammy nomination in 1983; Tenth Avenue which received a Grammy nomination in 1987 and Sinatraland, a big band tribute to Frank Sinatra for which he received a Grammy nomination in 1998. In 2006, he received two Grammy nominations for the album Elevation with Tom Scott and Eddie Daniels.
In September 2001, he won an Emmy for his song, “A Dream That Only I Can Know,” from the film, Yesterday’s Children. In 2002, he received an Emmy nomination for his score for “We Were The Mulvaneys” and a Grammy nomination for “The Theme from Blonde” from the sountrack album for the TV miniseries Blonde, a portrait of Marilyn Monroe. In 1992, Williams won the Emmy for the mini-series “Jewels”. He has composed and arranged themes and scores for television series including The Streets of San Francisco, Lou Grant, The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd, the Mary Tyler Moore Show, the Bob Newhart Show, Columbo, Slap Maxwell, The Tony Randall Show, and the Magician. Recent television projects include Hercules, starring Sean Astin, The Perfect Husband: The Laci Peterson Story; When Angels Come To Town and Finding John Christmas starring Peter Falk; James Patterson’s First to Die; Power and Beauty;The Thin Blue Lie; The Three Stooges with Michael Chiklis and A Cooler Climate starring Sally Field and Judy Davis. Of the 65 plus films Williams has scored in his career, a few include Breaking Away, for which he received a 1978 Oscar nomination; All of Me, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Swing Shift, Cuba, Violet’s Are Blue, Casey’s Shadow, The Cutting Edge, Cry-Baby, and The Glass Harp.
Williams is also an accomplished arranger with extensive credits. The album, For Ella featuring Patti Austin, which he co-produced and arranged, was nominated for a 2003 Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal album. He was chosen by Frank Sinatra to act as Musical Director/ Arranger- Conductor for his final studio recordings, Duets and Duets II. He has arranged recordings for Paul Anka, Peter Cincotti, Natalie Cole, Neil Diamond, Gloria Estefan, Michael Feinstein, Vince Gill, Amy Grant, Thomas Hampson, Barry Hay, Monica Mancini, Barry Manilow, Bette Midler, John Pizzarelli, Brian Setzer, Barbara Streisand, Traincha, and Russell Watson.
Williams has been a leader in the music education field for many years, holding posts as Visiting Professor and Composer in Residence at the University of Utah and the University of Colorado, which awarded him an Honorary Doctoral Degree. He has performed and/or lectured at many colleges including Berkeley College of Music, Duke University, Indiana University, Texas Christian University, (1993 Green Honors Professor), UCLA, USC, and Yale University. In May 2001. he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from Duke University. He served as Art Director of the Henri Mancini Institute from 2001 to 2006.