Jazz pianist, composer and Grammy-winning arranger Bill Cunliffe is known for his swinging and lyrical pianism and for his agility and inventiveness in melding jazz with the classical and pop genres. He performs around the world as a leader and sideman as well as a soloist with symphony orchestras.
Renowned New Zealand classical pianist Michael Houstoun recently recorded Cunliffe’s jazz arrangement of the Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 3, first movement, on the album “Concerti,” with the Rodger Fox Big Band (Rattle, 2015). Cunliffe served as co-producer, musical director and arranger of legendary singer Freda Payne’s jazz album “Come Back to Me Love” (Mack Avenue, 2014). His choral piece “She Moved Through the Fair,” commissioned for L.A. professional choir the Golden Bridge, received its premiere in September 2015.
Cunliffe wrote the score for the 2011 film “On the Shoulders of Giants,” Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s homage to the Harlem Rens basketball team of the 1920s and ’30s. The movie received a 2013 NAACP Image Award for Best Documentary. Cunliffe’s soundtrack was nominated for Best Album.
His own recent recordings include the trio album “River Edge, New Jersey” (Azica, 2013) and his solo-piano take on traditional Christmas tunes, “That Time of Year” (Metre, 2011), described as a “tour de force” in the Los Angeles Times. Cunliffe received a Grammy for Best Instrumental Arrangement for his “West Side Story Medley,” on the album “Resonance Big Band Plays Tribute to Oscar Peterson” (Resonance, 2009). His four other Grammy-nominated works include his concerto for trumpet and orchestra, “fourth stream … La Banda,” performed by Terell Stafford as soloist with the Temple University Symphony Orchestra (BCM+D, 2010).
Cunliffe was the 1989 winner of the Thelonious Monk International Piano Competition. He is a professor of music at Cal State Fullerton and also teaches at the Vail Jazz Workshop and the Skidmore Jazz Institute.