Bill Cunliffe Luncheon – January 19, 2011

Our luncheon guest Bill Cunliffe gave an interesting presentation. He gave incites into circumstances and inspirations which resulted in his Grammy Award-winning arrangement of a suite from West Side Story, built on Oscar Peterson’s version He played the CD as well as Oscar’s version. Bill fielded questions about his career and arranging processes.

Bill Cunliffe’s bio:

Grammy award-winning composer, arranger and jazz pianist Bill Cunliffe has gathered nationwide attention with his innovative and swinging recordings and compositions   He first fell under the influence of jazz by studying at Duke University with the great pianist Mary Lou Williams. After graduating summa cum laude from Duke, he received his masters from the Eastman School of Music.
After teaching at Central State University, in Wilberforce, Ohio, he toured as pianist and arranger with the Buddy Rich Big Band, and worked with Frank Sinatra, Ray Brown, Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, Benny Golson, James Moody, and Joshua Redman.

As a composer and arranger, Bill has been performed by many orchestras, including the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, the Illinois Philharmonic, the Reading (PA) Symphony, and the Henry Mancini Institute Orchestra. Among his works are a three movement “Romantic” Fantasy for piano and orchestra, a festive overture, “Viva Mexico,” and numerous works for big band, orchestra, and choir.

His books “Jazz Keyboard Toolbox, “ and “Jazz Piano Inventions” published by Alfred Publications, are fast becoming standard reference books in jazz, and his big band compositions are published by Kendor Music, and the University of Northern Colorado Jazz Press.

In addition to several Down Beat Awards for his big band and orchestral pieces, Cunliffe won the Thelonius Monk International Jazz Piano Award in 1989.   This year, Bill received a Grammy for Best Instrumental Arrangement for his West Side Story Medley, released on the CD, “The Resonance Big Band Pays Tribute to Oscar Peterson.” He has also been nominated for three Grammys and two Emmys as a composer and arranger.

His latest film project is “On The Shoulders of Giants,” a documentary about jazz and basketball in Harlem in the 30’s, produced by basketball great, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.  Currently, he plays with his own trio, his group Imaginacion, and duets with the great jazz flutist Holly Hofmann, with whom he has recorded five CD’s.