Bill Elliott (musician)
October 2, 1951|
Wayland, Massachusetts, U.S.
|Genres||jazz, musical theater|
|Occupation(s)||Musician, orchestrator, composer, bandleader|
Bill Elliott (born William F. Elliott, October 2, 1951) is a pianist, bandleader, Hollywood composer and Broadway orchestrator. In 2015 he won a Tony Award for best orchestration for the Broadway musical, An American in Paris. In 2012 he was nominated for both Tony and Grammy awards for Broadway's Nice Work if You Can Get It. Elliott won Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Orchestrations in 2017 for the Broadway Musical Bandstand.
Elliott began as a Los Angeles studio musician, recording with artists such as Stevie Nicks, Smokey Robinson, Donna Summer, Bette Midler and others. In his 20s he was the pianist in Bonnie Raitt's band. His career in contemporary pop music gradually and serendipitously turned toward orchestration of films, television, and then Broadway musicals. Some of the films that feature Elliott's music include Dick Tracy, Nixon, Contact, Independence Day and Wedding Crashers. He has written music for Disney's video sequels to Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, and for the television shows Northern Exposure, Ellen and Gilmore Girls.
At age 42 he formed "The Bill Elliott Swing Orchestra", which has performed on movie soundtracks and on record albums for prominent artists.
As of 2016, Elliott is on the faculty of Boston's Berklee College of Music. He has written over 50 arrangements for the Boston Pops Orchestra and has been guest conductor for the symphony orchestras of seven major cities.
Elliott grew up in Wayland, Massachusetts, about 20 miles west of Boston. In 1969, he graduated from Wayland High School, where he played clarinet in the school band. Encouraged by director George Doren, Elliott wrote his first orchestrations for the band to play at football game halftimes. Even as a teenager, he liked swing music, and learned to play Fats Waller-style stride piano; but at the time, this was little more than a hobby because his real interest was the pop music of the day. His piano skills showed early, and he quickly became a favored keyboardist for artists around the Boston area. Other than high school music instruction, Elliott is basically self-taught. He did not attend college. He said, "I was impatient." "I just wanted to be a musician".
In 1969, at age 18, he was invited to come to Los Angeles to perform on a recording by one of his Massachusetts friends, John Compton, who was making his first studio album called In California. In an interview 40 years later, Compton said of Elliott, "Bill only needs to hear a song once and he already knows it perfectly. He's like a modern-day Mozart, and really looked the part back then." Soon, Elliott decided to move to Los Angeles. He had some significant early success performing in a country-rock band called The Rowan Brothers, named for Elliott's hometown friends Lorin and Chris Rowan who had moved to California. He performed on their 1972 album The Rowan Brothers, featuring Jerry Garcia and produced by bluegrass mandolinist David Grisman.[a] The band was successful enough to perform as the opening act for The Grateful Dead at San Francisco's Fillmore West in 1971. He also played with other California bands, such as "Seatrain", and "Marblehead".
Elliott moved back to Boston in the mid 1970s and toured with some popular acts of the day, including Livingston Taylor (brother of James Taylor), Jonathan Taylor and Tom Rush. Elliott's first big band writing was for a show performed by actor/comedian Martin Mull. Elliott said, "The show covered many musical styles, including swing, country, and r&b. It was a real education learning how to arrange for these distinct genres on the fly."
In 1977, at age 26, he returned to L.A., which was his home base while touring as a member of Bonnie Raitt's band for about two years. Between tours he found work making demo recordings for music publishers; this work honed his skills—enough for Elliott to enter into a select group of elite recording keyboardists, that allowed him to focus on studio work and to stop touring. Elliott was booked on sessions to record with artists including Stevie Nicks, Donna Summer, America, Robbie Dupree, and Smokey Robinson, among others.
Finding a niche
In his 30s, punk rock and new wave music was coming in style, but Elliott could not imagine himself playing that type of music. He began to focus more on writing and orchestrating, working for free at first, doing musical scores for low-budget films. He developed this skill by teaching himself. He said, "I learned by doing. I learned arranging on the fly, just trying it out."
A break came when some Boston friends, who were working on a movie, asked him if he could write something for it. The film was Dick Tracy starring Warren Beatty, and it needed a 1930s swing-type tune. This was a type of music that Elliott always liked anyway, but for years had kept separate from his pop career. In essence, he was now being asked to write new music that sounded like old music. He said, "Here was something I excelled at, and few others were doing it." He traveled back to Boston and recorded the song "Pep, Vim, and Verve" for the movie sound track. Later, he obtained jobs arranging music for Disney Studios, including video sequels to Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. He wrote for TV's Northern Exposure, Ellen, the Drew Carey Show and ABC's The Shirley Temple Story.
The Bill Elliott Swing Orchestra
At age 42, Elliot formed "The Bill Elliott Swing Orchestra", a 19-member band based in Los Angeles. It included some of LA's finest musicians with whom Elliott had become acquainted. The first performance was in 1993 at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. Taking advantage of a swing dance revival in the 1990s, the band attracted dancers of the Jitterbug and the Lindy Hop initially, but the orchestra gained stature and acceptance to the point of being featured on film soundtracks and albums of major artists. Examples include Midnight, a jazz album by Diane Schuur that was written and produced by Barry Manilow; and the HBO film Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, starring Halle Berry, which featured Elliott's orchestra on the soundtrack. The orchestra accompanied John Lithgow and Bebe Neuwirth on a children's album called Farkle and Friends. Lithgow collaborated with Elliott on other projects, such as the children's album, Singin' in the Bathtub, on which Elliott was conductor, orchestrator and performer. He also performed with Lithgow in live concerts for children featuring this work. By the late 1990s Elliott's career was almost exclusively focused on arranging, composing, and orchestrating for film, television, and children's music, with some time allotted for his orchestra.
In his early 50s, Elliott's work on the west coast declined after 9/11, and he was thinking of returning to the Boston area. He was in Boston working on a movie and visited his old friend Livingston Taylor, who was then on the faculty at Boston's Berklee College of Music. Elliott then learned of a job opening there in the Contemporary Writing and Production Department. He was hardly an academic, yet Elliott had the real-world experience that suited the job perfectly, and he accepted the offer and began teaching at Berklee in 2004. As for his teaching methods, Elliott stated, "I teach them what works with players, how players like to work together, and how instruments work together." After returning to Boston, he soon began working with the Boston Pops Orchestra. Over the years, has written more than 50 pieces for them including the orchestra's holiday shows and their Gershwin celebration tour.
In 2008, he was the music director for a PBS documentary with Michael Feinstein called The Sinatra Legacy which later received an Emmy nomination. This album impressed Ita Cahn, the widow of songwriter Sammy Cahn. She was then producing a musical play in San Diego — an updated version of the 1964 Sinatra/Crosby film called Robin and the 7 Hoods. She asked Elliott to orchestrate it and, through contacts he made doing that show, he was led to other theater work.
Elliott began writing for Broadway shows beginning about 2008. One of his original songs, called "Bill's Bounce", was featured in the Broadway musical dance revue Swing!. He contributed additional orchestrations to the 2011 revival of Broadway's Anything Goes. In 2012 he was nominated for both Tony and Grammy awards for Nice Work if You Can Get It — the Tony nomination was for best orchestration, the Grammy nomination was for Best Musical Theater Album, for which Elliott was co-producer. Next was his orchestration for the 2013 adaptation of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella. Elliott, along with co-writer Greg Anthony Rassen, won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Orchestrations in 2017 for the Broadway Musical Bandstand. In 2015 Elliott, along with two collaborators, Don Sebesky and Christofer Austin, won a Tony Award for his orchestration in the Broadway musical, An American in Paris. The production attracted attention because its direction and choreography were done by a ballet choreographer with no previous experience directing musicals. The production had already been performed in Paris for four months when Elliott was hired to adapt the music to better suit Broadway. "I was brought in to re-do some of the songs in a more theatrical way," Elliott said. In this process, the directors carefully study the audience responses during preview shows, then fine-tune the show based on what the director feels the audience responds to. Changes in a dance routine require the music for that dance to be re-written. Elliott used his same routine here that he used with film — studying videos of the action. He worked on nearly half of the music in the final show. He said, "It is more than just taking notes and assigning them to a instrument, but rather bringing emotions to life that are trying to be there. He said, "I felt like I was hired to put the 'American' in An American in Paris."
Awards and nominations
- 2008 Emmy Award nominee – PBS Documentary The Sinatra Legacy
- 2012 Drama Desk Award Nominee – Outstanding Orchestration – Nice Work if You Can Get It
- 2012 Tony Award Nominee – Orchestration – Nice Work if You Can Get It
- 2012 Grammy Award nominee – Best Musical Theater Album – Nice Work if You Can Get It
- 2015 Tony Award Winner – Orchestrations – An American In Paris
- 2017 Drama Desk Award Winner – Outstanding Orchestration – Bandstand
- 2017 Tony Award Nominee – Orchestration – Bandstand
- Ashton, Emily (July 15, 2015). "Professor Bill Elliott Wins Tony Award for Hit Broadway Musical". berklee.edu. Berklee College of Music. Retrieved 30 December 2016.
- Stewart, Zan (June 30, 1995). "MUSIC : Getting Into the '30s Swing : Bill Elliott". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 30 December 2016.
- "The Tony Awards/The Winners". The Los Angeles Times. June 8, 2015. p. E-2.
- "Acceptance Speech: Christopher Austin, Don Sebesky & Bill Elliot (2015)". youtube.com. The Tony Awards. Retrieved 4 January 2017.
- "Nice Work if You Can Get It". broadwaymusicalhome.com. Broadway Musical Home. Retrieved 3 January 2017.
- Cox, Gordon (June 4, 2017). "Drama Desk Awards 2017: Bette Midler, 'Oslo' Take Top Honors (Full List)". variety.com. Variety Media (Penske Business Media). Retrieved June 7, 2017.
- "Berkeley College of Music/Contemporary Writing Faculty/Bill Elliott". berkley.edu/people/bill-elliott. Berkeley College of Music. Retrieved 6 January 2017.
- Kohlhaase, Bill (April 7, 1995). "Bill Elliott Will Honor Artie Shaw". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 20 January 2017.
- Olesin, Nancy (October 18, 2016). "'An American in Paris' features arrangements by Holliston's Bill Elliott". milforddailynews.com. GateHouse Media. Retrieved 1 January 2017.
- "Anything Goes/Opening Night Playbill/Bill Elliott". playbill.com. Playbill. April 7, 2011. Retrieved 5 January 2017.
- "News from the Bill Elliott Swing Orchestra". swingorchestra.com. Bill Elliott. Retrieved 3 January 2017.
- "Playbill, Nice Work if You Can Get It". playbill.com. Playbill Vault. Retrieved 4 January 2017.
- Fleming, Ryan. "Bill Elliott Reinvention 101". berklee.edu. Berklee College of Music. Retrieved 2 January 2017.
- "Compton & Batteau – In California". discogs.com. Discogs. 1971. Retrieved 3 January 2017.
- Warburton, Nick (September 1, 2009). "John Compton Interview by Nick Warburton". garagehangover.com. Chris Bishop. Retrieved 2 January 2017.
- Hartenbach, Brett. "The Rowan Brothers/Overview/Review". allmusic.com. Allmusic, member of the RhythmOne group. Retrieved 7 January 2017.
- "The Rowan Brothers/Credits". allmusic.com. Allmusic, member of the RhythmOne group. Retrieved 1 January 2017.
- Huey, Steve. "The Rowans/Artist Biography". allmusic.com. Allmusic, member of the RhythmOne group. Retrieved 5 January 2017.
- "Diane Schuur/Midnight/Credits". allmusic.com. Allmusic, member of the RhythmOne group. Retrieved January 4, 2017.
- "The Bill Elliot Swing Orchestra/Introducing Dorothy Dandridge/Credits". allmusic.com. Allmusic, a member of the RhythmOne group. Retrieved 6 January 2017.
- Phares, Heather. "John Lithgow/ Farkle and Friends/Overview". allmusic.com. All music, member of the RhythmOne group. Retrieved 6 January 2017.
- "John Lithgow/Singin' in the Bathtub/Credits". allmusic.com. Allmusic, member of the RhythmOne group. Retrieved 7 January 2017.
- Heffley, Lynne (November 4, 1999). "Lithgow Hopes to Make a Big Splash in Concert". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 7 January 2017.
- "Livingston Taylor/Professor, Voice". berklee.edu. Berklee College of Music. Retrieved 7 January 2017.
- "InTheir Own Words". berkley.edu. Retrieved 7 January 2017.
- "Chichester Festival Theatre/Profiles/Bill Elliott". cft.org.uk. Chichester Festival Theatre. Retrieved 5 January 2017.
- Stevens, Rob (August 2, 2010). "Reviews: Robin and the 7 Hoods". theatermania.com. TheaterMania.com. Retrieved 7 January 2017.
- McNulty, Charles (August 1, 2010). "Theater review: 'Robin and the 7 Hoods' at the Old Globe". latimesblogs.latimes.com. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 6 January 2017.
- "The Guide to Musical Theatre/Shows/Swing". guidetomusicaltheatre.com. The Guide to Musical Theatre. Retrieved 5 January 2017.
- "Bill Elliott Orchestrator, Composer". ibdb.com. The Broadway League. Retrieved 3 January 2017.
- "Broadway World/Bill Elliott Theatre Credits". broadwayworld.com. Retrieved 5 January 2017.
- "2015 Tony Award Best Orchestrations". ibdb.com. The Broadway League. Retrieved 3 January 2017.
- Seibert, Brian (April 18, 2015). "Ballet Values Infiltrate Broadway" (New York Edition). The New York Times Company. p. C-1.