Bill O’Connell is a native New Yorker who studied classical composition at The Oberlin Conservatory of Music. Early in his career, he played and composed in various salsa and jazz settings that set the tone for his musical style.
In 1977, he joined salsa great Mongo Santamaria, writing and performing with him for over two years. Following that he worked with Chet Baker and jazz legend Sonny Rollins with whom he toured the United States and Europe .
Bill, an internationally recognized composer, has his original compositions on CDs by Mongo Santamaria, Emily Remler, Charles Fambrough, and on virtually every recording made by flutist Dave Valentin. He has also written for television including a documentary about Latin Jazz legend, Tito Puente.
Over the years, Bill has displayed his versatility performing, writing and arranging for numerous other jazz artists including Gato Barbieri, The Fort Apache Band, and vocalists Jon Lucien, Kenny Rankin, and Astrud Gilberto. Bill was featured as a pianist and arranger on the recent CD (2010) by trombonist Conrad Herwig, “The Latin Side of Herbie Hancock”. His 10 solo recordings which consist predominantly of his own compositions are “Searching” on the Inner City label, “Love for Sale” on the Pony Canyon Label, “Signature, featuring Bill O’Connell” on the Blue Moon Mesa label, “Lost Voices” on the CTI label, “Black Sand” and “Latin Jazz Fantasy” on the Random Chance label , “Triple Play’ and “Zocalo” on the Savant label , “Rhapsody in Blue” on the Challenge/Twinz label and “Triple Play + 3” on the Zoho label. They have received wide critical acclaim throughout the world.
On four separate occasions, Bill was the recipient of the coveted “Jazz Writer of the Year” award from SESAC, the performing rights organization.
Bill’s recording “Black Sand,” The Bill O’Connell Latin Jazz Project, was released in September 2001 and featured Dave Valentin, Randy Brecker, Andy Gonzalez, Steve Berrios and others. As Mark Holston writes,” Putting the primary accent on the Latin side of the stylistic equation proves the point Bill O’Connell has been making all of his professional life-Black Sand sizzles.”
“Latin Jazz Fantasy” released in June 2004 is a recording that features Bill’s compositions in an orchestral and small group setting. George Carroll writes in his review, “ The range of his artistic spectrum seems limitless, and I suggest that my readers will be moved by this colossus of musical dignity and improvisational authority.”
In April, 2008 Bill released the CD, “Triple Play,” on the Savant label. It is a trio recording comprised mostly of Bill’s compositions featuring Bill on piano, Dave Valentin on Flute, Richie Flores on Congas/Percussion. Chris Heim in JAZZIZ writes,” But in the end, when you add up all the little parts-the range of music, the skill and chemistry of the players, the many small pleasures in arrangement and execution-“Triple Play” adds up to a surprising high-scoring set.” Bill released his CD, “Rhapsody in Blue” on the Challenge/Twinz label in September/2010. Writes Rob Young “ When I hear music of this magnitude, I can’t help but celebrate the beauty it embellishes!” Bill released two CD’s in 2011. The first was a live solo performance from a concert in Moscow’s Tchaikovsky Hall , “After The Dust Settled” (September/2011/ Random Chance label). This is a very special composition that Bill wrote after the events of 9/11 ten years ago. The second was “Triple Play Plus Three” (October/2011) on the ZOHO label. It features Richie Flores, Dave Valentin, Dave Samuels and Paquito D’Rivera. In 2013 “Bill O’Connell and The Latin Jazz Allstars-Zocalo” was released on the Savant label. Josef Woodard in Downbeat writes, “On Zocalo, restless harmonic and rhythmic shifts meet restless idiomatic moves, but in the most natural, vibrant and musically truthful way”. Savant will be releasing Bill’s next CD in October /2014.
Bill is currently performing with his band, ”Bill O’Connell and The Latin Jazz Allstars”, Conrad Herwig’s Latin Side, his trio “Triple Play’” and teaching at Rutgers University.