Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Fielder, William (Butler)

Fielder, William (Butler), trumpeter, educator; b. July 2, 1938, Meridian, Mississippi. His father was Dr. Alvin Fielder. His only sibling is Alvin Fielder, Jr. He grew up in Meridian until age 16. He started playing piano in seventh grade, then four months later his father's cornet. His mother played piano and violin. The cornet was considered therapy for his lungs, which were weakened by asthma. Harry James was an early influence, then Gillespie and Stan Kenton. In 1947 he saw Gillespie at the Casino Ballroom in Meridian on a tour with Ella Fitzgerald.

He studied with Duke Otis, a former classmate of Teddy Edwards who directed the school bands, played alto sax and taught all instruments. Fielder later played French horn in the school band. He began studying with George Frank Sims, a trumpeter influenced by Armstrong. He practiced day and night (once a neighbor called the police who came and took the trumpet away). His older brother assisted him in reading for four dollars a lesson. He played first trumpet in the high school band, began using the Arban book and in ninth grade began studies with William "Hillbilly" Davis, who had played in Cab Calloway's band and was band director at Jackson State College. Davis used Fielder in demonstrations in front of his college students and had him play first trumpet in the Jackson State College band while in tenth grade.

He transferred from Meridian High School to Tougaloo College Prep School, where he studied physics and chemistry for two years. Although his parents
wanted him to become an M.D., his heart was set on music. When he graduated, he accepted a music scholarship at Tennessee State. Hank Crawford, Les Spann, Phineas Newborn, Leon Thomas and Cleveland Eaton were involved in the band program there. Crawford formed a band in 1955 to play jazz. Although Fielder was a strong technician he needed work on playing changes. The Tennesee State College band traveled to Cleveland, Ohio where his bandmates pushed him onstage to jam with Jimmy Smith and Big Joe Alexander on "Cherokee." It was a disaster; Alexander stopped the band and made Fielder apologize to the audience. In 1956, the Dizzy Gillespie big band played Tennessee State and Fielder asked Dizzy for advice on improvising. Gillespie introduced him to Lee Morgan who played duets with him and told him to contact Booker Little, who had left Tennessee for Chicago.

In 1957, after a year and a half at Tennessee State, Fielder left for Chicago. His parents were furious and his father cut off his financial support. Booker Little advised him to take lessons from a symphony player and when he went to Orchestra Hall with his trumpet case in the winter of 1957, he was asked by chance to audition for Adolph Herseth, the principal trumpeter of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He played the Haydn trumpet concerto from memory and was placed in the Chicago Civic Symphony, playing first trumpet, side by side with Charlie Geyer (now at Eastman School of Music), and trombonist Jay Friedman (who along with Herseth remained in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra). He studied with Vincent Cichowicz, the second trumpeter in the CSO where he was introduced to the airflow and breathing principles that have become such an important part of his playing and teaching. Between early 1958 and early 1959, Fielder was rehearsing almost daily with Sun Ra. The Arkestra only played a few engagements (including a 1958 road trip to Indianapolis where Wes Montgomery sat in with the band at the YMCA), so many of the members also worked the Chicago theaters such as the Tivoli and the Regal, making up to $800 a week.

Fielder played such gigs with Ray Charles, B.B. King, and behind Dinah Washington, Abbey Lincoln, Redd Foxx and Diahann Carroll as a member of Morris Ellis's band at Robert's Show Club (with Art Hoyle, tenor saxophonist John Neely, trombonist John Avant and drummer Harold Jones). He also
played with Captain Walter Dyett's working band at the Parkway Ballroom. In late 1958, he dropped out of the American Conservatory of Music and
toured with B.B. King, playing one-niters across the U.S. and Canada. He played lead and solo parts. Although offered the straw boss job in this band, he
turned it down and returned to Chicago. There he joined Slide Hampton's group, which included George Coleman and Hobart Dotson. Fielder played on the premiere performance of Hampton's "Cloister Suite" at the Cloister Inn in Chicago, the piece having been written in two hours (it was sightread on the bandstand). The Hampton band played engagements in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and also made short trips to other locations such as Montreal.

In late 1960, Fielder returned to Mississippi for a few months, then moved to New York City where he roomed with Pat Patrick on 84th Street. Around
this time, he subbed in the Duke Ellington Orchestra, spent time back in Slide Hampton's group, subbing for Freddie Hubbard, and played in Danny Small's band which frequently played gigs on Long Island with Philly Joe Jones, Norris Turney, Donald Byrd, Herbie Hancock, Marcus Belgrave and others. After making a revelatory discovery on improvising in 1961, Fielder moved back to Chicago, auditioned at the C&C  Lounge for a gig with Gene Ammons and spent three years there with the band (co-led by tenor saxophonist Eddie Williams). It also included organist Sleepy Anderson, guitarist
Roland Faulkner and drummer Dorell Anderson. He also worked with Eddie Harris at the Old East End club. In 1963 he backed Aretha Franklin at the Regal Theatre. In 1964, Lee Morgan offered Fielder the trumpet chair with Art Blakey and James Spaulding encouraged him to move back to New York, but Fielder refused to leave Chicago. He had resumed his studies with Herseth and Cichowicz and received his Bachelor's and Master's degrees from the
American Conservatory of Music. He began his career as an educator at Alabama State University (1965-1972), where he taught trumpet, directed the
brass ensemble and was assistant band director, and played in the Birmingham Symphony.

He attended an international trumpet symposium in Denver in 1970, where he met and worked with Maurice Andre (an early idol), Louis Davidson, William Vacchiano, and Harry Glantz. He began suffering from glaucoma shortly after this and stopped playing entirely for six months. In 1972, Fielder accepted the head band director position at Tennessee State and worked with the Nashville Symphony under music director Dr. Thor Johnson.

In late 1974, he left TSU and worked for a semester at the University of Oklahoma. In 1975, he moved back to Mississippi, teaching at several schools including LeMoyne Owen College and Southern University in New Orleans. At Mississippi Valley State College in Greenwood, Mississippi he met Mulgrew Miller and recorded informally with him. Miller played these tapes while on tour with the Duke Ellington Orchestra and Mercer Ellington offered Fielder the featured trumpet position. Due to his teaching responsibilities, Fielder could not accept, although he did work with the Ellington Orchestra in the North Carolina area. An offer to join the Count Basie Orchestra as lead trumpeter for a world tour was similarly declined.

Fielder also led a group in Memphis which included his brother Alvin, Bill Easley, pianists Phineas Newborn or Donald Brown and bassist London Branch. It was during this period that Ellis Marsalis asked Fielder to teach trumpet to his son Wynton. He also worked with Kidd Jordan's son Kent and
Wynton's brother Branford. From 1977 to 1979, Fielder worked in North Carolina, as director of the jazz studies program at Shaw University. In 1979 he
accepted a position at Rutgers University, where he has remained. During this time he played Jazzmobile concerts with Frank Foster, David Newman, Charlie Rouse and Kenny Barron, who was also a member of the Jazz Professors group, which toured the country, playing in Mississippi, Colorado, North Carolina and Iowa as well as in the northeast. It included Barron or Barry Harris, Larry Ridley, Charlie Rouse or Frank Foster, Ted Dunbar and Freddie Waits, Walter Bolden or Philly Joe Jones.

In 1981, Fielder gigged in Brooklyn with Mulgrew Miller, Kenny Garrett and David Eubanks, but cut back on his performing engagements to concentrate on running the Rutgers jazz program. Fielder spent an extended period in 1986 working on his trumpet fundamentals and made a significant discovery that he is refining to this day. He also performed at two concerts in Mississippi with Teddy Edwards, Marlon and Kidd Jordan, Alvin Batiste and Art Hillary. Since then he played very rarely in public, an exception being an all-star brass concert featuring Slide Hampton and Jimmy Heath arrangements. He is a legendary instructor whose students include Michael Mossman, Terence Blanchard, Terrell Stafford, Riley Mullins, George Shaw, Frank Lacy and others. He can be seen coaching Wynton Marsalis in the televised classical video Baroque Duet.

B.B. King: unknown issues
Sun Ra: The Nubians of Plutonia
William Fielder: Love Progression (1984)
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Fritz Reiner: Pines of Rome (Respighi) (RCA, 1959)

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Contributor: Dr. Lewis Porter

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