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William Henry Cunliffe Jr. (born June 26, 1956),[1] known professionally as Bill Cunliffe,[2] is an American jazz pianist and composer.[3][4][5] He has written books on jazz for Alfred Publications and has taught at California State University, Fullerton.

Bill Cunliffe
Bill Cunliffe.jpg
Background information
Birth nameWilliam Henry Cunliffe Jr.
Born (1956-06-26) June 26, 1956 (age 63)
Andover, Massachusetts, U.S.
Occupation(s)Musician, composer, arranger
Years active1978–present

Early lifeEdit

Cunliffe was born in Andover, Massachusetts. He discovered music at an early age, with particular emphasis on classical music as well as jazz-oriented music from the 1960s and 1970s: "My mother was a good pianist...I started just copying little things that I would hear my mom play and I would sit next to her and listen.[6]

Cunliffe described himself as having been drawn to "anything with hip harmony in it" with great melodies, and he loved listening to The 5th Dimension, Burt Bacharach, and Herb Alpert.[6] He attended Phillips Academy and graduated in 1974 in the school's first co–educational class. In college, he performed rock and roll at the Prince Spaghetti House in Saugus, Massachusetts. He attended Wesleyan University for several years.[7] During this time, a friend introduced him to a record by Oscar Peterson, and after listening to this record, Cunliffe became a "jazz player overnight."[8] While in school, he considered careers in medicine and psychology, but in his junior year, he decided finally that "music was it."[6]

After graduating from Duke University, where he studied with jazz pianist Mary Lou Williams, he received his master's degree from the Eastman School of Music.


For two and a half years, Cunliffe taught music at Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio. He then toured as pianist and arranger with the Buddy Rich Big Band, and worked with major recording artists including Frank Sinatra. He returned to Southern Ohio for a few years, where he was the "house pianist" at the Greenwich Tavern in Cincinnati, playing with Woody Shaw, Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, Benny Golson and James Moody. In 1989 he moved to Los Angeles, and shortly after that won the 1989 Thelonious Monk Jazz Piano Competition, which was judged by pianists Hal Galper, Ahmad Jamal, and Barry Harris. Cunliffe worked occasionally with Buell Neidlinger's group "Thelonious," and in 1990 joined the Clayton Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, and the Clayton Brothers Quartet, recording a number of albums with them on the Qwest, Capri, and Fable labels. He also worked in duo with the jazz flutist Holly Hofmann, touring with her extensively, and recording on the Capri and Azica labels with her, notably, the session "Live at Birdland," with the great bassist Ray Brown. Cunliffe made three jazz albums for Warner/Discovery Records which achieved recognition in nationwide jazz polls,[8] including Bill in Brazil during a stint in Rio de Janeiro that was well received. He recorded several albums for Azica Records, including Satisfaction, a solo piano outing, Live at Rocco, with his sextet, and Partners in Crime, a Hammond B3 session with guitarist Jim Hershman and drummer Jeff Hamilton. In 2000, he recorded a sextet session of Earl Zindars' music, and in 2001 Cunliffe documented his working trio of ten years with Live at Bernies, which was released on both CD and vinyl, highlighting his work with bassist Darek Oleszkiewicz and former Bill Evans drummer Joe LaBarbera. Cunliffe has been a member of LaBarbera's quintet featuring saxophonist Bob Sheppard and trumpeter Clay Jenkins virtually since its formation in the early 1990s, with a number of well received albums on the Jazz Compass label.

Cunliffe has always loved Latin music, and in 2003 recorded his Latin octet Imaginacion, on Torii, which reached No. 2 in nationwide radio jazz charts. A follow-up album is waiting to be released. He is a Baldwin Pianos artist, and was Marian McPartland's guest on her famed Piano Jazz radio show in 1998.

Cunliffe led the Resonance Jazz Orchestra at the Playboy Jazz Festival in Hollywood, California, in June 2011. He accompanied the great Rumanian pianist Marian Petrescu in selections from the Resonance Jazz Orchestra Plays Tribute to Oscar Peterson CD. This led to more engagements for Cunliffe's big band, which recorded at Vitello's jazz club in LA in 2013 for a scheduled 2014 release. His big band compositions are published by Kendor Music, and Otter Music.

In the 1990s, Cunliffe wrote a number of educational publications. His book Jazz Keyboard Toolbox was published by Alfred Publications and became a standard reference in jazz.[8] Next came an educational DVD and book on beginning blues piano called MAX Blues Keyboard, also for Alfred. He then published Jazz Inventions for Keyboard, short pieces in the style of the Chopin Preludes and Bach Inventions, with an accompanying audio CD. More recently, he published Uniquely Familiar, a book of through-composed arrangements of jazz standards, followed by a similar collection entitled "Uniquely Christmas."

He has composed numerous works for big band, orchestra, chamber groups, and choir, and has been performed by many orchestras, including the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, the Illinois Philharmonic, the Reading Symphony, the Rio Hondo Symphony Orchestra, the Manhattan School of Music Symphony, the Temple University and Cal State Fullerton Symphonies, and the Henry Mancini Institute Orchestra.[8] He has written extensively for television, and for film, including the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar-produced film, On the Shoulders of Giants (2011), which was nominated for several awards by the NAACP.

His concerto for trumpet and orchestra entitled fourth stream... La Banda (2010) was nominated for a Grammy in that year, and was premiered by Terell Stafford and the Temple University Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Luis Biava, at Verizon Hall in Philadelphia, and at Alice Tully Hall in New York City. His three-movement piano concerto Overture, Waltz and Rondo, for piano and chamber orchestra was inspired both by jazz and by the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; this piece was also nominated for a Grammy in 2012. Cunliffe composed a tuba concerto in 2011 for the great Los Angeles studio and orchestral tubist Jim Self. Cunliffe conducted this piece with the Hollywood Ensemble at East/West Studios in Hollywood. He also recorded a piano and tuba version of the piece; the two versions are coupled on the Metre Records release. Temple University commissioned another concerto from him in late 2012; he took a chamber piece that he had written in 2004 based on Brazilian themes, and expanded it into a three movement saxophone concerto, which he recorded in Philadelphia in 2013 with Biava, the Temple orchestra, and the great saxophonist Dick Oatts. Cunliffe's Symphony #1, Hearts Reaching Upward, dedicated to the trumpet pedagogue Mark Garrabrant, was premiered in 2013 by trumpeter Kye Palmer, and the Cal State Fullerton Wind Ensemble, conducted by Mitchell J. Fennell.


Cunliffe is Professor of Music at California State University Fullerton, where he was honored as "Distinguished Faculty Member" in 2010. In addition, he has taught at such institutions as Central State University, Musicians Institute in Hollywood, California State University, Northridge, the University of Southern California, and Temple University.[8]

He has conducted numerous workshops and clinics as well. Ongoing residencies include the Skidmore Jazz Institute, and the Vail Jazz Workshop. In 2010, he made a DVD teaching beginning jazz and blues piano.[6] He is composer-in-residence at All Saints Episcopal Church, in Pasadena, California. He composes and performs with his trio, big band, and Latin jazz group Imaginacion.


Cunliffe won the 2010 Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Arrangement of Oscar Peterson's "West Side Story Medley".[9] In 2006 he was nominated for a Grammy award for his jazz arrangement of the Steely Dan song "Do It Again".[10][11] When he was a student at Eastman, he received two awards from DownBeat magazine for arranging and composing.[12]

In 1989, he won the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Award. He received stipends from the National Endowment for the Arts.[1] He won a grant from the New Zealand School of Music[8] and the Rodger Fox Big Band of New Zealand released an album of Cunliffe's jazz orchestra compositions.[1] In 2005, he won the Philadelphia Jazz Composer competition sponsored by the American Composer Federation. In the 1990s, he was nominated for two Emmys for best original song for the television soap operas Another World and Guiding Light.


  • Jazz Keyboard Toolbox, Alfred Publications[1] (2000, ISBN 978-0739007266)
  • Jazz Piano Inventions, Alfred Publications[1] (2005)
  • Maxx Blues Keyboard, Alfred Publications[1] (2004)
  • Uniquely Familiar, Alfred Publications[1] (2010)
  • Uniquely Christmas, Alfred Publications[1] (2012)


Year recorded Title Label Notes
2015? Playground Swing Metre solo and duo piano with percussionist Brad Dutz, and Curt Bisquera and Daniela Spagnolo on one track
2013? Nostalgia in Corcovado with saxophonist Dick Oatts and the Temple University Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Luis Biava
2013? River Edge, New Jersey Azica Trio, with Martin Wind (bass), Tim Horner (drums)
2012? Concerto for Tuba and Orchestra with Jim Self (tuba), the Hollywood Ensemble, conducted by Bill Cunliffe
2012? Overture, Waltz and Rondo BCM&D for trumpet, piano and orchestra, with Terell Stafford, trumpet, and the Temple University Symphony, Luis Biava conducting
2011? That Time of Year Most tracks solo piano; one track duo, with Denise Donatelli (vocals) added
2010? Fourth Stream, La Banda for trumpet, jazz ensemble and orchestra, with Terell Stafford, trumpet, and the Temple University Symphony, Luis Biava conducting
2010? Three's Company Capri Some tracks duo, with Holly Hofmann (flute); some tracks trio, with Terell Stafford (trumpet), Ken Peplowski (clarinet), Regina Carter (violin), Alvester Garnett (drums) added separately
2008? The Blues and The Abstract Truth, Take 2 with septet featuring Bob Sheppard, trumpeter Kye Palmer, and drummer Mark Ferber
2008? Transformation with the choir of All Saints Church, Pasadena, James Walker, director
2008? Romantic Fantasy with orchestra directed by Jeffrey Schindler
2005 Imaginación Torii Tentet, with Kyle Palmer and Bobby Shew (trumpet), Bruce Paulson, Arturo Velasco (trombone), Bob Sheppard (tenor sax, flute), Rene Camacho (bass), Ramon Banda (drums, percussion), Jose de Leon and Jose "Papo" Rodriguez (percussion)
2003? Just Duet volume 2 Duo, with Holly Hofmann (flute)
2003 How My Heart Sings Torii Most tracks sextet, with Bobby Shew (trumpet, flugelhorn), Bruce Paulson (trombone), Bob Sheppard (soprano sax, alto sax, tenor sax, clarinet, flute, alto flute), Jeff D'Angelo (bass), Joe LaBarbera (drums); two tracks septet, with Justin Ray (flugelhorn) added
2003 It's About love Torii With Gary Foster (alto sax), Jeff D'Angelo (bass), Tim Pleasant (drums)
2002? Warriors T-Bones With Rodger Fox Big Band
2001 Live at Bernie's Groove Note Trio, with Darek Oles (bass), Joe LaBarbera (drums); in concert
2001? Partners in Crime Azica Trio, with Jim Hershman (guitar), Jeff Hamilton (drums)
2000 Live at Rocco Azica Most tracks sextet, with Chuck Manning (tenor sax), Clay Jenkins (trumpet), Alexander Iles (trombone), Jeff D'Angelo (bass), Joe LaBarbera (drums); some tracks septet, with Holly Hofmann (flute) added; in concert
1998? Satisfaction Azica Solo piano
1997? Just Duet Azica Most tracks duo, with Holly Hofmann (flute); one track trio, with Mark Libby (percussion) added
1996 Bill Plays Bud Naxos With Ralph Moore (tenor sax), Dave Carpenter (bass), Joe LaBarbera (drums), Papo Rodriguez (percussion)
1995? A Paul Simon Songbook Wuth Thom Rotella (guitar), Gerald Albright (sax)
1995? Bill in Brazil with Oscar Castro Neves, Alex Acuna, Nico Assumpcao, Paulinho Da Costa
1994? A Rare Connection With Bob Sheppard (tenor sax, bass clarinet), Clay Jenkins (trumpet), Bruce Paulson (trombone), Dave Carpenter (bass), Peter Erskine (drums), Kurt Rasmussen (percussion)

Awards and nominationsEdit

Year Result Award Category Project Notes
2013 Nominated NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Album, Outstanding Group or Duo Collaboration On the Shoulders of Giants - The Soundtrack [5]
2012 Nominated Grammy Award Best Instrumental Composition Overture, Waltz and Rondo [5]
2011 Nominated Grammy Award Best Instrumental Composition "Fourth stream...La Banda" [5]
2010 Won Grammy Award Arrangement "West Side Story Medley" [8]
2006 Nominated Grammy Award Arrangement "Do It Again"
2005 Won Kimmel Jazz Center Award Best Composition "El Optimista" [8]
2003 Nominated Grammy Award Arrangement "Angel Eyes" written for Alan Kaplan (trombone) and his Orchestra
1990s Nominated Emmy Best Original Song [8]
1990s Nominated Emmy Best Original Song (two nominations in 1990s)[8]
1989 Won Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Award $10,000 prize[1][8]
1981 Won Down Beat Student Award Best Original Composition "Song of Solitude" [1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Bill Cunliffe profile". All About Jazz. 2010. Retrieved January 20, 2016. Bill was the 1989 winner of the $10,000 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Award, and has received stipends from the National Endowment for the Arts. His three albums for Warner/Discovery Records all charted in nationwide jazz polls. 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.
  2. ^ Feather, Leonard; Gitler, Ira (2007). The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 019532000X.
  3. ^ Collar, Matt. "Bill Cunliffe". AllMusic. Retrieved July 3, 2018.
  4. ^ "Jazz Listings". The New York Times. August 7, 2008. Retrieved June 7, 2010. Bill Cunliffe Trio (Thursday) Bill Cunliffe, an accomplished pianist and composer in the modern jazz mainstream, doesn't surface often on the New York scene, having fruitfully established a home base in Los Angeles.
  5. ^ a b c d Patrick Jarenwattananon (2010). "Several Jazz Surprises in the 2011 Grammy Award Nominations". National Public Radio. Retrieved December 3, 2010. Best Instrumental Composition category is essentially a jazz category. Patrick Williams, Gerald Clayton, Tim Hagans, Bill Cunliffe and Billy Childs were the five nominees, all for works involving jazz bands.
  6. ^ a b c d Fred Jung (2010). "A Fireside Chat With Bill Cunliffe". All About Jazz. Retrieved June 7, 2010. When I was a kid, I was listening mostly to classical music because my dad had a lot of it in the house. I listened to all the stuff that was on the radio in the Sixties and Seventies.
  7. ^ David Low, "Cunliffe '78 Wins Grammy for Instrumental Arrangement", Wesleyan University, March 3, 2010.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Paula Selleck (February 2, 2010). "Highest Note: Bill Cunliffe Wins Grammy Award". California State University, Fullerton. Retrieved June 7, 2010. The third time was the charm for Bill Cunliffe Sunday, when he went from Grammy-nominated composer, arranger and jazz pianist to Grammy winner.
  9. ^ "Grammy Awards: List of Winners: Music". The New York Times. January 31, 2010. Retrieved June 7, 2010. Instrumental Arrangement ... "West Side Story Medley," Bill Cunliffe
  10. ^ "Complete list of Grammy Award nominations". USA Today. Associated Press. February 8, 2006. Retrieved June 7, 2010. 84. Instrumental Arrangement: Cherokee, Chris Walden, arranger (The Chris Walden Big Band); Do It Again, Bill Cunliffe, arranger (Bill Cunliffe) ...
  11. ^ "Package, Album Notes and Historical Nominees and Winners: 48th annual Grammy Awards". Chicago Tribune. 2005. Retrieved June 7, 2010. Best Instrumental Arrangement "Cherokee," Chris Walden, arranger (The Chris Walden Big Band) "Do It Again," Bill Cunliffe, arranger (Bill Cunliffe)
  12. ^ "New Faculty – Bill Cunliffe". July 24, 2011. Retrieved September 7, 2018.

External linksEdit