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Guitarist, Teacher Billy Bauer Dies

Billy Bauer, one of the first modern jazz guitarists, died Friday in Melville, N.Y. at age 89. The cause of death was complications of pneumonia, according to his daughter, Pamela.

Bauer was known for his work with Woody Herman’s big band and later for his performances and recordings with Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman, Charlie Parker, Stan Getz and Lee Konitz. He is most remembered, however, for his partnerships with avant-garde pianist Lennie Tristano. He first joined Tristano’s group in 1946 and quickly transformed his playing from that of rhythm guitar to that of a soloist.

In 1958, Bauer founded a publishing company, William H. Bauer Inc., to publish his own compositions, as well as those by Tristano and Konitz and Warne Marsh, also members of Tristano’s group.

Bauer was born on Nov. 14, 1915 in the Bronx, New York and soon began playing banjo and ukulele. His career began early, at age 14 when he played banjo on the radio. He soon switched to guitar and was playing electric guitar in dance bands by 1940. Though he was a proficient soloist, he preferred to support other musicians, even naming his autobiography Sideman. His only album as leader, Plectrist, was released in 1956.

In 1961, Bauer opened his own jazz club in Long Island, N.Y., but by the mid-1970s, he had decided to abandon studio and performance work in favor of full-time teaching. He rarely played, instead focusing his energy on his Billy Bauer Guitar School in Roslyn Heights, N.Y., a neighboring city to his home in Alberston. He continued to teach until he was hospitalized in early spring, his daughter said. But even from his hospital bed, he continued to teach and advise his students.

In addition to his daughter, of Pocono Pines, Pa., Bauer is survived by son William G. Bauer of Dix Hills, N.Y. and four grandchildren. His wife of 63 years, Marion, died last year.

Originally Published