10 Songs, 1 Hour 2 Minutes


About Bill Cunliffe

A Grammy-award winning jazz pianist, arranger, and educator, Bill Cunliffe is an adept soloist with a swinging flow and a lyrical improvisational quality. After graduating from Eastman School of Music, Cunliffe first launched his career as a teacher at Ohio's Central State University, and then as a drummer and arranger with the Buddy Rich Big Band. Later, he came to the greater public's attention as the winner of the 1989 Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz International Piano Competition. Along with his own highly-regarded solo albums, he was a longtime member of the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, and has worked with a bevy of name performers including Joe Henderson, Frank Sinatra, Freddie Hubbard, Benny Golson, Michael Bublé, and more. Based in Los Angeles, Cunliffe balances his time between teaching at California State University Fullerton, leading his own post-bop jazz groups, and working with his Latin band Imaginación, and his classical-jazz ensemble Trimotif.

Born William Henry Cunliffe, Jr. in 1956 in Andover, Massachusetts, Cunliffe was introduced to music at young age by his mother, a talented pianist. Growing up, he took private lessons while attending Phillips Academy, and listened to varied mix of classical, jazz, pop, and rock artists. Later, he attended Wesleyan University, and played in a local rock band. During this period, a friend introduced him to the music of pianist Oscar Peterson, a discovery that ignited his enduring love of jazz. Although he had flirted with notions of studying medicine and psychology, by his senior year he was dedicated to music. He transferred to Duke University, where he studied with pianist Mary Lou Williams, and later, earned his Master's degree from Eastman School of Music.

Upon graduating, he accepted a position teaching at Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio and left after two years to join the Buddy Rich Big Band as drummer and arranger. Following his time with Rich, he returned to Southern Ohio where he played for a time as the house pianist at the Greenwich Tavern in Cincinnati, working with a regular flow of touring musicians like Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson, Woody Shaw, James Moody, and others. Relocating to Los Angeles in 1989, he entered and won the prestigious Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz International Piano Competition. That same year, he paired with drummer Bernie Dresel for Porcupine, the self-titled debut of their crossover jazz ensemble. From there, he began his long association with the Clayton Brothers, and the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, touring and recording with them for several years.

As a leader, Cunliffe debuted with 1993's A Rare Connection, a swinging, straight-ahead session featuring reedman Bob Sheppard, trumpeter Clay Jenkins, trombonist Bruce Paulson, bassist Dave Carpenter, drummer Peter Erskine, and percussionist Kurt Rasmussen. He followed up a year later with A Paul Simon Songbook, which found him investigating the songs of one of his favorite pop writers alongside saxophonist Gerald Albright, guitarist Thom Rotella, and others. More well-received albums followed, including the bossa nova-tinged Bill in Brazil, 1998's Bud Powell-themed Bill Plays Bud, and the 1990 solo piano session Satisfaction. He also returned to his work with Porcupine, continued his work the Clayton Brothers, and made session dates with flutist Holly Hofmann, the Jazz at the Movies Band, Bob Curnow, and more. Also in the '90s, Cunliffe garnered two Emmy Award nominations for Best Original Song for his work on the daytime soap operas Another World and Guiding Light.

Over the next decade, Cunliffe continued to expand his output, releasing several live albums, and debuting his Latin jazz ensemble with 2005's Imaginación. He also earned first of several Grammy Award nominations for his arrangement of "Angel Eyes," off trombonist Alan Kaplan's 2002 album Lonely Town. There were albums with saxophonist Gary Foster, drummer Joe La Barbera, Eden Atwood, and Phil Kelly, among others. In 2010, he took home his first Grammy Award win for his arrangement of "West Side Story Medley" off The Resonance Big Band Plays Tribute to Oscar Peterson. More Grammy nominations followed, including for his arrangements of Terell Stafford and the Temple University Orchestra's 2012 album Overture, Waltz and Rondo for Jazz Piano, Trumpet and Orchestra. He also paired with clarinetist Mort Weiss for an album, collaborated with clarinetist Gary Gray, Rhapsody in Blue Plus More Gershwin, and played on Michael Bublé's Nobody But Me. In 2017, he delivered Bachanalia, which featured big-band versions of compositions by J.S. and C.P.E. Bach, Falla, Prokofiev, and more. ~ Matt Collar

Lawrence, MA
26 June 1956