Bill O' Connell Quartet
After a 40-year long career that has seen him excel as a leader, soloist, arranger, musical director, and accompanist for some of the most celebrated names in jazz and Latin music, Bill O’Connell can lay claim to a track record of challenging and artistic-diverse triumphs that few of his peers can match. As a recording artist, his 13 dates as a leader have drawn universal critical acclaim while his talents as a pianist and arranger have been tapped by a diverse range of noted soloists to elevate their sessions.
Today, as both a respected educator and leader of The Latin Jazz All-Stars, O’Connell’s professional life brims with new opportunities to express and fulfill his singular music vision.
Born in New York City on August 22, 1953, O’Connell studied classical piano at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. On his return to New York, the young pianist was drawn to the Latin jazz and salsa scene that was flowering in the city in the 1970s. He joined Cuban conga player and bandleader Mongo Santamaria’s Latin jazz group in 1977 as keyboardist, arranger and composer.
His time with Santamaria resulted in the first of O’Connell’s many recordings on two LPs for the Vaya label.
Although he was well established as an in-demand keyboardist and arranger on the Latin music circuit, O’Connell didn’t forsake his interest in straight-ahead jazz, landing engagements with such hallowed improvisers as Sonny Rollins, Chet Baker, Gato Barbieri and Emily Remler. As a sideman, he recorded four albums with bassist Charles Fambrough and others with singers Jon Lucien, Janet Lawson and Nnenna Freelon. Other rewarding engagements included working with vocalists Kenny Rankin and Astrud Gilberto, The Fort Apache Band, and trombonist Papo Vázquez.
Shortly after recording his first album as a leader, Searching, in 1978 for the Inner City Records label, O’Connell began a long association in 1984 as keyboardist, arranger and music director for popular flautist Dave Valentín. He maintained a strong friendship and close working relationship with Valentín through the release of 15 albums, culminating in 2011 with the flute legend’s final recording, Pure Imagination, for HighNote Records.
O’Connell resumed his recording career as a leader in the late 1980s with Love for Sale (Pony Canyon) and Signature (Blue Moon Mesa), followed in 1993 by Lost Voices (CTI). In recent years, his output has accelerated, producing 10 releases. They include After the Dust Settled (Random Chance), a solo recital recorded in Moscow, a 2015 a duo session with saxophonist Steve Slagle, Power of Two (Panorama Records); Latin Jazz Fantasy (Random Chance), a 2004 an ambitious date that featured strings and horns; and two albums utilizing a unique trio formation, Triple Play (Savant, 2008) and Triple Play Plus Three (Zoho, 2011).
Other titles in O’Connell’s discography include Black Sand (Random Chance, 2001), the prototype of what would become the pianists regular group, The Latin Jazz All-Stars; Rhapsody in Blue (Challenge, 2010); and three subsequent releases featuring The Latin Jazz All-Stars -- Zócalo (Savant, 2013), Imagine (Savant, 2014), and Heart Beat (Savant, 2016), featuring Conrad Herwig on trombone, saxophonist Steve Slagle, bassist Luques Curtis, Richie Barshay on drums and percussionist Richie Flores. He is also involved as a keyboardist and arranger on Herwig’s Latin Side Of series, which put a Latin twist on the compositions of such jazz giants as Herbie Hancock and Joe Henderson.
Leading jazz publications, including Downbeat, JAZZIZ, Jazz Times, and All About Jazz have long praised O’Connell’s artistry. Alex Henderson, writing for AllMusic.com, stated that “As a pianist he is known for a lyrical approach that owes something to Keith Jarrett, Bill Evans, Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock.” “The range of his artistic spectrum seems limitless,” declared George Carroll in his review of Latin Jazz Fantasy.
A four-time recipient of the “Jazz Writer of the Year” award from SESAC, the performing rights organization, and a member of the jazz faculty of Rutgers University, O’Connell’s illustrious career vividly demonstrates that he is a master of myriad music idioms and an endless range of sophisticated keyboard and arranging skills.