Jazz professor Cunliffe
nominated for Grammy
Composer, arranger and jazz pianist Bill Cunliffe, assistant professor of jazz studies in the Boyer College of Music and Dance, has done it again.
Already the winner of the prestigious Thelonius Monk International Jazz Piano Award in 1989, several Down Beat Awards, and an Emmy and a Grammy nomination, he has again been nominated for a Grammy for his arrangement of the Steely Dan piece “Do It Again” on his latest album Imaginacion, a jazz album that draws heavily on Latin themes.
The Boston-born Cunliffe, who lived in Los Angeles for 16 years before joining the Temple faculty last year, will be heading west to attend the Grammy Awards ceremony at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Feb. 8.
“Do It Again” is one of four standards on the album, which also features six original compositions by Cunliffe. The album has received rave reviews and spent a month in the No. 2 position on the Jazzweek chart within weeks of its release.
He came to Temple at the urging of his friend and fellow musician Terell Stafford, director of jazz studies for the Boyer College. “Terell is one of the finest jazz trumpet players and educators in the country, and I wanted to be a part of that.”
“Temple,” he said, “is one of the best jazz educations you can get, and for a fraction of the money of other music schools. And students can take advantage of the great jazz in Philly clubs.”
At Temple, Cunliffe said, "I teach what I do out there, and I want the students to get a sense of whaht the real [jazz] world is like."
His own music interests are wide-ranging and extend well beyond the world of jazz. He has composed extensively for big band, chamber groups, choir and orchestra. And he’s a regular at Philadelphia Orchestra concerts.
Cunliffe studied jazz at Duke University and the Eastman School of Music, where he received his master’s degree. He taught at Central State University in Ohio before going out on tour as pianist and arranger with the Buddy Rich Big Band and working with Frank Sinatra.
He then played and toured with many legends of jazz, including Ray Brown, Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, Art Farmer and Woody Shaw.
His previous Grammy nomination, in 2003, was for his arrangement of “Angel Eyes” on an album of Frank Sinatra songs played by trombonist Alan Kaplan.
While his students are “very excited” at the prospect of their Grammy-nominated professor winning the coveted award, Cunliffe is somewhat philosophical.
“It really is an honor just to be nominated. The record came out the way I wanted it to. You really have to just make the music and let it happen,” he said.
Cunliffe is continuing to make music at an up-tempo pace: He’ll play Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” with the Manhattan School of Music Symphony in New York on April 7; he’s arranging a patriotic song published by Kenny Gamble, of the legendary Philadelphia International Records group, that will be recorded at the Kimmel Center by the Temple Symphony Orchestra, and combined Concert Choir and University Singers; he’s composing a guitar concerto; and this summer, he’ll be on tour with his band, traveling to Colorado and New Zealand.
- By Harriet Goodheart