Billy Bauer

Innovative jazz guitarist
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The Independent Online

William Henry Bauer (Billy Bauer), jazz guitarist: born New York 14 November 1915; married 1941 Marion Costello (died 2004; one son, one daughter); died New York 17 June 2005.

Billy Bauer was the guitarist who took the jazz idiom beyond that of the swing era, and, even in those early days, beyond the bebop influence, to that of the avant-garde and today's jazz. His influence is inestimable and is still felt today. Despite this, he seldom received the critical recognition that was his due. A somewhat shy and private person, he never sought the limelight.

Bauer's best-known recordings date from 1946 to 1949 with Lennie Tristano and, later, through the Fifties, with the alto saxist Lee Konitz. Memorably, his "Duet for Saxophone and Guitar" with Konitz, recorded in March 1951 and released on Prestige, had a great innovative beauty that heralded an entirely new approach to jazz guitar.

He was born in the Bronx, New York, in 1915. Playing the banjo as a child, he switched to guitar in the Thirties, working with a band led by the clarinettist Jerry Wald and in 1944 joining Woody Herman's First Herd. Following that he played with Benny Goodman and Jack Teagarden. His most creative and influential period came between 1946 and 1949 when, as a member of Tristano's ensembles, he became recognised as an advanced bop stylist. He also played on Tristano's recordings "Intuition" and "Digression", the very first recordings of free jazz.

He received awards from the magazines Downbeat and Metronome; with the Metronome All-Stars, a recording group made up of poll-winning musicians, Bauer played alongside Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Tristano, Miles Davis and Fats Navarro. He also appeared with the NBC Staff Orchestra and taught at the New York Conservatory of Modern Music; he continued to work as a freelance musician during the 1970s and to teach privately right up until a few weeks before his death. Among other musicians with whom he was associated were Milt Hinton, Jack Wilkins, Eddie Safranski, Lou Levy, Conte and Pete Candoli and Bill Harris.

His many recordings date from 1941 with Carl Hoff and his Orchestra and then in 1944 a spate of recordings with Woody Herman's band. During the mid-Forties he also recorded with Charlie Ventura's Orchestra, with Neal Hefti's group, with Tommy Dorsey and with Chubby Jackson's band.

Billy Bauer was unlike the popular image of the jazzman. He eschewed extravagance and, as the radio-show host Ken Wylie commented, there was

a wonderful naturalness about him. As an artist he's been interested in playing his guitar, being wherever he was and loving it that way. It's amazing the number of different styles he played in the history of this music. The most remarkable impression of Billy is his enthusiasm and his love of life.

In his autobiography, Sideman (1997), Bauer said,

Music gave me my education; a chance to travel and meet many kinds of people. Music gave me the opportunity to study my whole life.

We first met when we played together in New York's Birdland in 1950 and over the years his gentle wisdom remained a profound influence. Just a month ago, when I visited him in Long Island, he was enthusiastic about the release of a recent recording and the way he had been credited.

A summer celebration of his life is being planned and a scholarship foundation set up. For further information, e-mail

Peter Ind