Charles "Cootie" Williams joined Duke Ellington in 1929 after working briefly with Chick Webb and Fletcher Henderson. Williams replaced the well known, uniquely stylized Bubber Miley, who specialized in a growling, plunger style. Ellington made great use of Williams in such features as "Concerto for Cootie," "Tutti for Cootie," and the full length versions of "Take the 'A' Train."

Williams proved an expert at the muted, growling style also. His solos have great force and authority. Unlike Miley, Williams also played effectively on an open trumpet. Like so many of Ellington's side men, he played long, logical improvised lines.

Cootie Williams was a man of great intensity and inner turmoil. He left Ellington in frustration in 1940. He played briefly with Benny Goodman, led his own band for a while and then a small group. In 1962 he rejoined Ellington and stayed with him until Ellington's death.