San Francisco Bay area jazz pianist, arranger, composer and educator from East Moline(Iowa) widely known as “The Jazz Professor” died Saturday evening at the age of 80 at his home in Oakland, Calif. July 1936 – March 2017
“Professor” Bell mentored and inspired many professional musicians as a college music professor and jazz band director.
He also recorded several jazz albums and worked with the likes of Benny Carter, Roy Eldridge, Clark Terry, Lou Rawls, Louie Bellson, The Supremes, and Carmen McRae.
He never forgot the Watertown section of East Moline where he grew up being called “Little Bill.” Those who knew him are mourning his loss and treasuring their memories. Those in the East bay and through-out the San Francisco bay area are mourning too, along with family and loved ones.
Mr. Bell did make recordings and composed a “work” for the San Francisco Symphony. He also began a long career as an esteemed educator that included being chairman at the College of Alameda, Music Department, jazz improvisation teacher at the University of California, Berkeley, and Director of the Stanford University Jazz Band.
Prominent students Bell mentored included Sheila Escovedo, better known as Prince’s collaborator Sheila E.; jazz pianists Benny Green and Michael Wolfe also, trumpeter Jon Faddis.
The following text is a reprint of a Hipster Jazz blog review written by Robert J. Carmack ,November 7 2007, Oakland,California.
It was announced by Robert J. Carmack, executive producer and vice-president operations for SFBAAAM, that their first concert was a complete success. the first in a continuing series entitled “Back Street Jazz Series”, was held Sunday, November 4th at the Oakland Public Conservatory of Music in downtown Oakland California. The show which featured the musical leadership of Jazz educator/pianist, Dr. Bill Bell. The SRO crowd applauded, yelled and whistled at the tight band assembled by Bell and a trio of sultry vocalists featured on the first set. jumping blues to ballads with a “big band feel” using arrangements by Bell himself, an accomplished arranger/composer. Sunday’s show opened with local favorite Ms. Robin Gregory as she torched the audience with her rendition of Blue Gardenia, followed by a lovely arrangement of Cole Porter’s Night & Day.
Valerie Cooper, a talented up and coming singer in the bay area followed Robin. “It was truly magical” stated Joye Slayton, a visiting jazz fan from Atlanta, Georgia.
Dr. Bell just simply pointed at certain musicians and they responded with blistering solos and sublime “comping” and coloring. Finishing up the first set was veteran vocalist, Darlene Coleman, a very talented songstress, who just nailed both her songs with polished tenacity and sheer vocal power.
The evening’s host and producer, Robert Carmack introduced a panel of jazz educators and musicians to discuss, “how jazz could further develop their audiences” by including more youth and starting early in the exposure of jazz to young people.
Local jazz radio host, Sonny Buxton, Ms. Anna De Leon, Anna’s of “Jazz Island” night club, Karlton Hester, department head of music at UC Santa Cruz, Multi-instrumentalist Roger Glenn and “Professor” Bell, conductor of first set’s band, also participated.
An assorted menu of food items were served to the hungry crowd, as they purchased dinners and beverages to help raise money for continued jazz programming and to expand the series for the Black Musicians Forum.
The evening was not done, as Carmack gathered the crowd for the start of the second set. It featured an entirely different band and musical director. Mr. Glenn Pearson. Pearson, head of music department at The College of Alameda presented a more “edgy” sounding ensemble with sax, trumpet, bass, drums and piano, the saxophonist Roger Glenn doubling on vibes and flute. OPCM founder, Ms. Angela Wellman(trombonist/educator) was totally elated at the success of the evenings’ joint venture between BMF/SFBAAAM and OPCM. a relationship that is developing into a great marriage quickly .
Many of the patrons spoke volumes of praises as they exited the building for the night. a slogan has been adopted by the two organizations and will be publicize wherever it can.
We Own This! Use It, Feel It, Live It! Next event is slated for Sunday, December 2nd at the Oakland Public Conservatory of Music, Oakland California.