Posted on 03/16/15 by in Fascinating Rhythms
By Jennifer Abelson
Bill Pierce is one of America’s most talented jazz artists and educators. Born William (Watson) Pierce on September 25, 1948, Bill was raised in Jacksonville and Miami, FL. He began saxophone lessons while in public school and took oboe lessons at the University of Miami his senior year. After attending Tennessee State University for a few years, he transferred to the Berklee College of Music. He began performing in the ‘70s in Boston while a student. In 1980, he joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and served as its musical director. Even during his early performing and touring years, Bill toured with internationally acclaimed artists such as Stevie Wonder, Bobby Watson, Wynton and Branford Marsalis, Donald Harrison, and more. After three years, Bill returned to Berklee, where he became an Associate Professor in the Woodwind Department. Bill continued touring and recording while teaching at Berklee. He joined the Tony Williams Quintet in 1985, touring Europe, Asia, and America and made five recordings with the group. Since 1986, Bill has continued to teach, perform, and record under his own name (see Discography for more info). Each area of his professional life has continued to thrive, highlighted by his appointment as Chairman of the Woodwind Department at Berklee College in 1997 and membership to the Kevin Eubanks quartet since 1999. Bill continues to perform at many major American, Japanese, and European jazz festivals. In addition to his long and successful career, Bill is a dedicated educator and mentor to many up and coming jazz musicians. He presents clinics in Europe, Asia, South America, and the United States.
The Music Settlement is thrilled to announce that Bill Pierce is headlining The Music Settlement Gala: Fascinating Rhythms on May 2nd, and we’re delighted to share this exclusive interview between Mr. Pierce and our writer, Jennifer Abelson.
The Music Settlement:Tell us about how you found your love and passion for music.
Bill Pierce:Like a lot of kids, I just started out in the school band program. I just always loved music. Listened to R&B and when we first started the band program at school—the Band Director just happened to live next door to us by chance. He lent us his jazz records, and I just got hooked.
The Music Settlement: You transferred from Tennessee State University to Berklee College of Music—what prompted the change?
Bill Pierce: I always wanted to go to Berklee. My parents really didn’t want me to go that far away from Florida, so I opted for Tennessee. Tennessee was a great opportunity to grow and expand in a historically black university, but I still really wanted to pursue music as my focus. They eventually agreed to send me to Berklee. Almost all of my teachers were great. They gave me the information I was looking for in my early life. I was learning from guys who were true professionals and had a career performing. They were hands-on—I really learned about the reality of the business side of music and learned about the skill set for becoming a professional musician.
The Music Settlement: Can you tell me about some of your early gigs? How did they differ from the ones later on in your career?
Bill Pierce: My early career was playing R&B. Blues bands in Tennessee. I learned a lot. Playing music is how you learn how to play. You learn how to be in a band, how to really play music, and how to perform. I was fortunate enough to get into a couple of Blues Bands in Tennessee and in early on in Berklee. I learned the sort of grunt-level professional skill set of being a musician, which is so important. Then I was able to play in R&B Club that brought in national acts, and that’s how I got to become a professional artist. I played with Stevie Wonder and so many other talented people.
The Music Settlement: Why did you decide to teach instead of touring professionally year-round?
Bill Pierce: Initially, teaching wasn't what I’d call my “calling”—it was an opportunity to make a little money and to keep performing. The more I taught, the more I learned. To break things down for people and to articulate it, you have to really think about it—the performance and the process. How should I convey the music and how do I break it down into points of understanding for my students? I really believe that the auditory learning process is so important. Yes, the brain is an important part of the study of music, but learning how to HEAR music...learning how to mimic and to be able to understand and convey music through an instrument … you have to think about it. This thought process—the teaching process—means that I learn as much from my students as they learn from me.
The Music Settlement: What do you tell people just getting started in music?
Bill Pierce: Listen. Listen to music. Listen to recordings and find something in there that you relate to. You have to start by listening. It can escape a person—either teaching or learning—that you have to listen to music and keep an open mind. You can listen on a lot of different levels—in an analytical way and for enjoyment. But, you really try to listen to something external and make it internal. You hear it and then you can convey it through the instrument of your choice. Listening is the most rudimental—yet most essential—part of becoming a musician.
The Music Settlement: What do you tell people who are trying to decide to take a risk on their music and a career in the field?
Bill Pierce: You have to understand that it’s not the easiest career to choose. Really, if you feel like it’s something you HAVE to do, you do it. But understand the risks that are involved...and have a plan B. You can always diversify your talent so that maybe you aren’t performing, but you’re doing something related to the arts. That said, if you heart tells you that performing is what you must do, then you do it. I had no real illusions that I was going to become a musician, that I would make it. I just put one foot ahead of another and worked hard. It takes dedication, and there’s no guaranteed payoff, but just do it if that’s what you must do.
The Music Settlement: Your headlining the gala. What can people expect?
Bill Pierce: We’re just going to play music that people might enjoy: quality jazz music and a good time.
The Music Settlement: Why should people support J@MS, the half-day jazz immersion program for students 12-18 that partners with Berklee?
Bill Pierce: Having an art study/music study for kids in the city...I can’t think of anything better that a city or community can do. The reality is that sometimes art has to take a backseat due to funding. To have something that really enables kids to pursue music, even as an activity, that allows them to get that training and experience...I can’t think of anything better.
The Music Settlement: Is there anything else you'd like to add about music, The Music Settlement, or the Gala?
Bill Pierce: Cleveland has always been known as music place. A lot of great musicians—not just jazz musicians—have come out of there and still do. It’s just amazing how some towns just have such a huge musical personality.DISCOGRAPHY
As a Leader:
Wiiliam the Conqueror - Sunny Side Communications SSC1013
Give and Take - Sunny Side Communications SSC1013
Equilateral - Sunny Side Communications SSC1013
One For Chuck - Sunny Side Communications SSC1013
Rollin Monk - King Recording KICJ 154
Rio (Ballads and Bossa Novas) - Sunny Side SSC1065D
Episthrophy - Evidence ecd 22128 2
Frogging Around - CIMP #107
Burnin' (with Javon Jackson ) -Criss Cross Jazz 1139
Live at Sundown - BSO 5 96-4 1996
With Kevin Eubanks
Genesis – In Soul Music IS-1501
Shrine – In Soul Music IS-1502
Live – In Soul Music IS-1504
With Art Blakey
Keystone 3 - Concord Jazz CJ-195
Straight Ahead - Concord Jazz CJ-168
Album if the Year - Timless Records SJ 155
Live at Montreux - Timless Records
Oh! By the Way - Timless Records SJ 165
Live in Sweden - Amigo Records 839
Live at Bubba's - Who's Who WWLP 2109
Live in East Berlin - Reperatore Records 4909
The Sound of Jazz - Cleo Recording CLCD 5001
Art Collection - Concord Jazz CCD 4495
With James Williams
Attitudes of an Every Day Man - TOCJ5741
Meets The Tenor Masters- D1W868
Alter Ego - Suuny Side Communications SCC1007
Flying Colors - Zion 2005
Everything I Love - Concord Jazz CJ-140
Images (Of Things to Come) - Concord Jazz CJ-140
Progress Report - Sunny Side Communications SCC 1012
Up to the Minute Blues - DIW 882
Talkin Trash featuring Clark Terry - DIW 887
We've got what you need - Evidence ECD 22207 2
Truth, Justice & The Blues - Evidence ECD 22142 2
With Tony Williams
Tokyo Live - Blue Note CDP077779903122
Civilization - Blue Note B185138
Angel Street - Blue Note B1-48494
Native Heart - Blue Note B1 -93170
Story of Neptune - Blue Note CDP7981692
With Makoto Ozone
Makoto Ozone - Columbia Records
With Geoff Keezer
Wating in the Wings - Sunny Side Communications SSC1035
Other Spheres - DIW 871
With Gary Burton
Gary Brton and the Berklee All Stars - JVC Records VIJ-28066
With Art Matthews
It's Easy To Remember - Metro Records MA 1001
With Richard Hollyday
Moment's Notice - Shiah SR 114
With John Swana
And Friends - Criss Cross 1055CD
Introducing John Swana - Criss Cross 1045CD
With Ted Pease
Big Band Blues Celebration - BL 1625
With King Wellington (Caribbean & Calypso Music)
Moving Up - Charile's Records 001
Who is King Wellington? - Charlie's Records 002
With Stanton Davis
Brighter Days - Outrageous #2
With Milt Ward
Virgo Spectrum - Twin Quest 114
With Maggie Scott & Naus, Hopkins Big Band
With Super Blue
Something Else - Toshiba RJ28 5501
With Berklee College
Jazz in the Classroom # XIV - Berklee Records BLP 14
With Richard Todd
New Ideas - GM2010
With Tony Hart
For the First Time - Novus 3120 2N
With Stanley Cowell
Mandara Blossoms - SteepleChase SCCD31396
With Jeff Palmer
Shades of the Pine - Reservoir RSRCD137
With Dimock Jazz Collective
A Child is Born
With Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra
Big Band Treasures Live - RJ0044
With Finten O'Neill Quintet
In the Moment - Amasona Music AM2530
With John Licata
John Licata & the Tenor Titans - JL 72597
With Jae Sinnett
Listen - Heart Music HM0020600152
With Consuelo Jon Quintet
Last Sunday Morning - accurate AC 5025
With Bill Mobley
Jazz Orchestra Live and Small – Space Time BG2320
New Light – Space Time BG2117
Triple Bill - Evidence e cd22163 2
With Greg Hopkins
Okavongo – Summit DCD293
Quintology – Summit DCD376
With Charnet & Charles Moffett
Sweet Basil APCZ-8031
With Choo Yoon Seng
WoongJin - WJCC0506
With Cecillia Smith
Volume II - BrownStone BRCD 933
High Standards - BrownStone BRCD9609
With Gilson Schachnik
Raw - BrownStone BRCD9808
With Alan Dawson
Waltzin with Flo - SpaceTime Records BG9808
With Fritz Renold
Starlight - Columbia A880382
With Coltrane Memorial Concert Orch.
Coltrane's Astre : The Annual John Coltrane Concert - Greenline GL614
With Berklee Dues Band
Dues Band Reunion - Berklee College of Music BCSPCD15
With Larry Finn & Anthony Vitti
The Dig- DDM16500CD
With Lemuel West
In Good Company - CAT Productions