Bill Douglas: A Musical Autobiography
[For a short biography suitable for press releases, program notes and so forth, please click here.]
I was born in London, Ontario, Canada on November 7, 1944. My Father played trombone and sang in a big band, and my Mother played organ in church. My earliest memory is of myself playing in a one-man band with toy instruments when I was three. I began piano lessons at four and I taught myself ukelele and guitar when I was about eight or nine. At age ten or eleven, I started to write songs influenced by early rock musicians such as Little Richard, the Everly Brothers, and Elvis. My two brothers and I formed a band which performed these tunes and other rock songs from the 50’s.
When I was thirteen, I started to play bassoon, and became very interested in both classical music and jazz. By this time, I had definitely decided on a career in music. My heroes in jazz were Bill Evans, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane, and I wrote my first jazz tunes at fourteen. I received an “Associate of the Royal Conservatory of Toronto” diploma in classical piano at age seventeen.
From 1962-66, I attended the University of Toronto and obtained a BA in music education. During this time, I became very interested in 20th century classical music, and started composing pieces influenced by Anton Webern, Elliott Carter, and Igor Stravinsky, as well as such contemporary jazz artists as Paul Bley and Gary Peacock. I played fourth bassoon in the Toronto Symphony, and I often played jazz piano gigs on weekends.
I was awarded a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship in 1966, and attended Yale University from 1966-69. There I met clarinetist Richard Stoltzman, and we have been touring and recording ever since. In 1967, I played three concerti with the Toronto Symphony. I received a Master of Music degree majoring in bassoon in 1968, and a Master of Musical Arts degree in composition in 1969. At this time, I was writing very avant-garde atonal music. After Yale, I received a Canada Council award to study composition in London, England for a year.
Teaching in California
From 1970-77, I taught at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California. Here, I became very interested in African and Indian music. I started writing a series of rhythm studies for my students called Rock Etudes (later, I changed the name to Vocal Rhythm Etudes). These were influenced by African, Indian, and Brazilian music, as well as contemporary classical music, jazz, and funk (particularly the 70’s funk of Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock).They have been used in many schools around North America, and I perform at least one of them in all my concerts. I also started to write short tonal and modal lyrical pieces for my students. These eventually became part of my concert repertoire, and I have recorded many of them. I also recorded, in 1976, three RCA albums of classical chamber music with pianist Peter Serkin and Tashi .
In Boulder, Colorado
In 1977, I moved to Boulder, Colorado to teach at the Naropa Institute. I continue to teach there and to tour with Richard Stoltzman and my own groups. With Richard, I also often play with bassist Eddie Gomez. Some of my bassoon students from Cal Arts moved to Boulder with me, and we formed the Boulder Bassoon Band which played together for twenty years.
I have recorded eleven CDs of my music for the Hearts of Space label (www.valley-entertainment.com/Artists/Bill_Douglas/). Six of these have featured the Ars Nova Singers (www.arsnovasingers.org) conducted by Thomas Morgan. In 1998, RCA released an album entitled “Open Sky: Richard Stoltzman plays the Music of Bill Douglas.” In March,1999, my “Concerto for African Percussion Ensemble and Orchestra” was premiered by Nexus and the Rochester Philharmonic. In April, 2005, my oboe concerto was premiered by Peter Cooper and the Colorado Symphony. My primary musical activity since 2004 has been composing music commissioned by classical musicians.
I receive much inspiration from my wonderful family: my wife Caroline, and my children, Catherine and Willy.
Among the many musicians who have inspired and influenced me are J.S. Bach, Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, Josquin Desprez, William Byrd, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Ralph Vaughn Williams, and Ali Akbar Khan. I buy many CDs, and listen to many different kinds of music. I love music very much, and when I perform, record, and teach, I am sharing that love.
My basic philosophy of music is that it can be helpful to the world.
It can evoke such positive emotions as compassion, tenderness, strength, nobility, upliftedness, and joy.
May all beings be happy.