Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Kirchner, Bill (William Joseph Kirchner, Jr.)

Kirchner, Bill [William Joseph Kirchner, Jr.], soprano saxophonist, composer, arranger, bandleader, historian,
record and radio producer, educator, author; b. Youngstown, OH, 31 August 1953.

"When I was 5, the TV detective series Peter Gunn, with  jazz-oriented scores by Henry Mancini, became a hit.  There was something about those sounds that fascinated me.  When I was 10, I heard the Duke Ellington band play 'Satin Doll' on 'The Ed Sullivan Show' and the sound of those harmonies and that saxophone section captivated me.  In June 1965, just before my twelfth birthday, I talked my parents into taking me to a George Wein-produced festival in Pittsburgh, which was near Youngstown, Ohio, my hometown.  The bill for one night was Earl Hines, Carmen McRae, the Stan Getz Quartet with Gary Burton, the John Coltrane Quartet, and the Ellington band.  Sid Mark had a syndicated show from Philadelphia that I heard on Saturday nights." He heard Bob Brookmeyer's "ABC Blues," from the first Thad Jones-Mel Lewis album, on Mark's show. It was another pivotal experience.  Also, WHAM in Rochester, NY had a nightly midnight-to-5 a.m. jazz show.  He started playing the clarinet at 7, the saxophone at 12, and the flute at 14.  "And in high school, I had a terrific band director named Sam D'Angelo, who led our jazz band and wrote arrangements.  I was the jazz tenor player in the band and got to play improvised solos; I also wrote my first arrangements for this band."  He also started his own bands.

"When I went away to college in New York City, I wasn't a music major; I was a literature major  But I took private lessons with Lee Konitz and later Harold Danko, played wherever possible, and soaked up as much live music as I could.  A few years later, I met tenor saxophonists Gregory Herbert and Pat LaBarbera; they saw that I was serious about music and encouraged me to pursue it full-time.  Not long afterward, I got an NEA grant to study arranging privately with Rayburn Wright at the Eastman School of Music."

He graduated in 1975 with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Manhattan College in New York City.  From then until 1980, he lived in Washington, D.C., playing with the Mike Crotty big band, the Bernard Sweetney quartet, and his own groups.  During this time, he also wrote reviews and articles for the Washington Post, Down Beat, Radio Free Jazz (now Jazz Times), and Jazz Magazine.   In 1979, he was assistant curator of the NEA Jazz Oral History Program then housed at the Smithsonian Institution, editing about 30 of the interview transcripts and eventually conducting three interviews himself (with Cozy Cole, Eddie Sauter, and Clarence Hutchenrider).  In 1995, he interviewed  Johnny Mandel for the Smithsonian's Jazz Oral History Program.

Since July 1980, Bill has lived in the New York City area, maintaining careers as a  composer-arranger, saxophonist, bandleader, educator, jazz historian, and record and radio producer.  His jazz ensemble, the Bill Kirchner Nonet, has appeared in festivals, concerts, and nightclubs throughout the United States, including the KOOL Jazz Festival, the Chicago Jazz Festival (with guest vocalist Sheila Jordan), and the Smithsonian Institution.  He also has appeared frequently with his own duos, trios, and quartets.

His arrangements, in addition to those for his Nonet, have been recorded by Dizzy Gillespie ("Tanga," on the Grammy-winning Live at the Royal Festival Hall), Lee Konitz, singer Patti Austin, and the Smithsonian Jazz Repertory Ensemble.  In August 2000, he was composer-in-residence at the Henry Mancini Institute in Los Angeles. In April 2004, the U.S. Embassy in Armenia featured Bill as jazz-artist-in-residence.  In January 2005, he was a featured soloist (on soprano saxophone) on Marian McPartland's "Piano Jazz" radio series.  His sideman credits as a player include live performances or recordings with Mel Lewis and the Jazz Orchestra, the American Jazz Orchestra,  singers Anita O'Day, Chris Connor, Jackie Cain, Karen Akers, and Anita Gravine, violinist Joe Kennedy Jr., bassist Reggie Johnson, and bandleaders Mousie Alexander, Ray Anthony, Mario Bauza, Larry Elgart, Tom Pierson, Tito Puente, and Bobby Rosengarden.

Bill has studied with Lee Konitz, Harold Danko, composer-arrangers Rayburn Wright and Mike Crotty (the year with Wright was funded by an NEA grant), multi-reed player John Purcell, trumpeter John McNeil, and the BMI Jazz Composers Workshop directed by Bob Brookmeyer and Manny Albam.  Since 1991, he has taught advanced jazz composition, jazz history, score analysis, and ensembles at The New School.  He also has taught graduate courses at Rutgers University (Newark) and currently at New Jersey City University, and currently a Duke Ellington course at Manhattan School of Music as well.

For over a decade,  Bill has been heavily involved with jazz reissue recordings:  producing, writing liner notes, and selecting and sequencing compilations for Blue Note, BMG, Columbia,  Denon/Savoy, Fantasy, GRP, Mosaic, the Smithsonian Collection of Recordings, Verve, and Warner Bros.

In 1993, after he experienced some numbness in his limbs, doctors discovered a tumor on his spinal cord. The surgery that saved his life left him unable to play flutes, clarinets, and most saxophones. However, he is currently performing on soprano saxophone, composing and arranging, and also is active teaching, producing, and writing (music and prose).

Bill has produced and written hour-long "Jazz Profiles" of Benny Carter, Artie Shaw, Johnny Mandel, and Bob Brookmeyer for National Public Radio.  He also has produced/hosted over fifty hour-long "Jazz  From the Archives" shows for WBGO-FM/Institute of Jazz Studies.

As leader:
Everything I Love; Trance Dance; Some Enchanted Evening; Infant Eyes;
What It Is To Be Frank
As arranger:
Dizzy Gillespie & The United Nation Orchestra: Live At The Royal Festival Hall (Arrangement of "Tanga"); Lee Konitz Nonet:  Yes, Yes Nonet (Arrangement of "Footprints"); Smithsonian Jazz Repertory Ensemble:  Music Of James P. Johnson And Fats Waller
As featured sideperson:
Chris Connor:  New Again;  Karen Akers:  In a Very Unusual Way;  The Benny Carter Centennial Project
As producer/co-producer:
Big Band Renaissance: The Evolution Of The Jazz Orchestra;  Bill Evans: Turn Out The Stars, The Final Village Vanguard Recordings, June 1980;  Charles Mingus And Friends In Concert;  Gil Evans: Priceless Jazz;  Duke Ellington: 1969 All-Star White House Tribute.

Many articles and liner notes.
Editor, A Miles Davis Reader (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1997)
Editor, The Oxford Companion To Jazz (Oxford University Press, 2000).
Sixty newly-commissioned essays by 59 noted musicians, scholars, and critics. 
"Bill Kirchner steps up to challenge," UPI Arts & Entertainment, by Ken Franckling

Interviews on the web:

Bill has placed in eight Down Beat International Critics' Polls as "Talent Deserving Wider Recognition--Arranger," and in 1990, he tied with Wynton Marsalis in the Jazz Times Critics' Poll as "Best Emerging Talent--Arranger".
For Big Band Renaissance: The Evolution of the Jazz Orchestra (Smithsonian), a 5-CD survey of orchestral jazz from 1941 to 1991,
Bill was co-producer, picked the selections, and wrote an 88-page booklet, for which he received a NAIRD Indie award in 1996 for "Best Liner Notes."
For Miles Davis & Gil Evans: The Complete Columbia Studio Recordings, he won a Grammy award in 1997 for "Best Album Notes".
Bill edited The Oxford Companion to Jazz (Oxford University Press, 2000), which won the 2001 Jazz Journalists' Association award for "Best Book".

Contact information:

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