Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Bill Berry Dies at 72

Bill Berry, a trumpeter who played in Duke Ellington’s band in the early ’60s and for several years served as musical director of the Monterey Jazz Festival, died Nov. 13 in Los Angeles of lung cancer. He was 72.

Born in Benton Harbor, Mich. to a musical family, Berry spent his early years trekking across the country with his parents as they toured to make a living. He had piano skills by the time he was 5 and later chose to focus on the trumpet.

After touring the Midwest as a trumpeter in his late teens, Berry entered the Air Force in 1951 and served his country for four years. He enrolled at the Cincinnati College of Music after being discharged and later studied at Berklee.

Berry eventually moved to New York and sat in the trumpet section of both Woody Herman and Maynard Ferguson’s bands before Ellington called on him in 1961. He remained with Ellington until 1964 and can be heard on Duke’s Featuring Paul Gonsalves (Fantasy/OJC, 1962) and New Mood Indigo (Doctor Jazz, 1966), among other albums.

Splitting from Ellington’s band in ’64, Berry grabbed a chair in the Merv Griffin Show band and kept the gig for 15 years. Working on the television show still allowed him enough free time to join the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra (he was a member from 1966-68) and form a big band of his own. When Griffin moved to Los Angeles in 1971 and took his show with him, Berry moved West as well and promptly reformed his band, renaming it the L.A. Big Band.

Throughout the ’70s and ’80s Berry continued to lead his band (which became more and more a part-time job) and also toured with Louie Bellson. Studio sessions and teaching gigs, plus his duties with the Monterey Jazz Festival, filled the rest of his schedule.

Apart from the Ellington discs mentioned earlier, Berry can be heard as a sideman on albums by Chris Connor, Joe Williams, Frank Capp and others. His own leader discography is small, but a few titles remain in print, such as 1978’s Shortcake and 1990’s Hello Rev (both on Concord).

Berry is survived by his wife, a son and a daughter.

Originally Published