This is the transcript of interview pianist/composer/arranger Bill Cunliffe gave to the LA Jazz Scene show in Los Angeles. It was originally broadcast in April 2010.
LA Jazz Scene: What is a typical week like for you? Are you highly scheduled or do you have enough free time for yourself?
Bill: I teach at Cal State Fullerton from Tuesday through Thursday, so those days are packed. I have to be there by 10 a.m. Living in Studio City, that can be a challenge just getting there. My iPhone has a great GPS program on it, though, so I can usually figure out the best way to get there in under an hour.
I get out of school around 7 p.m., and might just do homework, grade papers, etc, until 8. Then I’m home in about 50 minutes. Often I stay down there one night a week . . . there are many good cheap hotels down there.
I teach improvisation, direct four combos, a big band, have five piano students and teach arranging or jazz history. It’s a lot crammed into three days, but I really enjoy my students.
LAJS: You lived in New York for some time. You sent us columns from N.Y. so we got an idea about the jazz scene there. Why did you return to L.A.? What didn’t you like about New York?
Bill: I’ve been torn between N.Y. and L.A. for quite some time. I still have a place in N.Y., which is rented out a lot, and I love the people there, the scene, the energy. But it’s expensive, and living there takes up a lot of energy.
LAJS: It seems you’ve found enough work to satisfy you here in L.A. What makes L.A. good for musicians – the weather, connections, networking, more recording opportunities, etc. What do you think it is for you?
Bill Cunliffe flanked by trumpeter Terell Stafford and girlfriend Wanda Lau
Bill: For me, work has been good in L.A. and I have a great church here (All Saints in Pasadena where I’m composer in residence) and a great girlfriend, Wanda Lau, who is a copy editor for the L.A. Times. And the weather doesn’t hurt, either!
I never got into the studio scene here, just fell in with great players, such as John Clayton, Clay Jenkins, Bob Sheppard and Joe LaBarbera, and just couldn’t leave. Trombonist Bruce Paulson, who now lives in New Zealand, had a great weekly jam session at his house . . . that’s where I met a lot of my friends.
I do feel that because I travel a lot, L.A. is cool. If I were dependent on the L.A. jazz scene for my happiness, it wouldn’t be enough. It’s a very good scene, don’t get me wrong, and very underrated, but one night in N.Y., or even Chicago, tells you there’s a lot more out there.
These days, I’m as much a composer as a player, and L.A. is good for that. Excellent engineers and recording studios, and plenty of great players on every instrument. As the industry recording thing declines, it’s actually better for composers now, because you can get your stuff played and recorded, and these amazing players are available and interested in new things.