Along with his band, former New York Yankees center fielder and guitarist Bernie Williams will perform at the Morse Recital Hall on Friday.

Williams’ band, the Bernie Williams Collective, will perform as part of the Yale School of Music’s Ellington Jazz Series. The Duke Ellington Fellowship Series is led by Artistic Director Thomas C. Duffy. Over the series’ 40-year history, Yale has hosted performers such as Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus and Dave Brubeck.

“[Williams’] style is eclectic,” Duffy said. “His music reflects his Latin culture though a fusion of the Brazilian, Latin, pop and straight-ahead-jazz styles.”

Initially, the Ellington Jazz Series was a product of a concert series in the 1970s led by School of Music professor Willie Ruff. Duffy said that Ruff — a jazz bassist and French hornist — brought Duke Ellington to Yale, where Ellington was awarded the Yale Medal. Ruff then ran a campaign to amass financial support for more campus visits from world-class jazzers. Ruff established an endowment, which has sustained the series up to the present.

Through this program, artists visit New Haven schools and work with local school children. Duffy said Williams has been a tremendous supporter of young students’ music-making.

Williams has also supported young musicians through Little Kids Rock, a national nonprofits that seeks to restore music education in public schools. In 2010, the organizations honored Williams with its “Big Man of the Year” award. At the celebration, he performed with students and signed guitars for auction. The proceeds from the auction provided instruments for a school in the Bronx.

Michael Yaffe, Associate Dean at the School of Music, said he found it “amazing” that as a professional baseball player, Williams had found a second career playing music.

“He is such a sincere human being who cares so much about making music — you can just feel that when he plays, Yaffe said. “It is just so beautiful, the way he talks and cares about music.”

Duffy said that each year, the series hosts artists from various jazz subgenres: bop, swing, hard-bop, blues, ballad, progressive, big band, Afro-Cuban and Latin. In making programming selections, Duffy considers both artists’ availability and whether these musicians offer something special. In the past, Duffy considered women artists who do not fulfill the traditional roles of vocalist or pianist, up-and-coming young lions, and the most established veterans of jazz.

The series’ current season began with Ignacio Beroa, a Cuban drummer. Williams’ show will be this season’s last performance.

Wayne Escoffery, Grammy-winning saxophonist and jazz Lecturer at the Yale School for Music said he relates to Williams’ music, particularly because he is a 20-year resident of New York City who lives mere minutes from Yankee Stadium.

“To me, his music is an elegant fusion of the sounds of the Latino communities of Harlem and the Bronx, and the contemporary jazz traditions that were immensely popular in New Haven during the 90’s,” Escoffery said. “Bernie’s music is intelligent, soulful, it grooves, and is funky!”

The Ellington Jazz Series began in 1972.

Freya Savla |