Born: July 22, 1924 | Died: August 9, 2003 Primary Instrument: Saxophone
Bill Perkins was essentially a West Coast jazz musician, but in his varied career worked with music legends like Woody Herman, Stan Kenton, Art Pepper, Duke Ellington's band, and with Victor Feldman played on some of Steely Dan's legendary albums. A large part of his career was spent, playing with Doc Severinsen's Tonight Show Band for nearly twenty five years.
Bill Perkins is one of the outstanding members of the legion of technically gifted and musically inspired tenor players who emerged at the beginning of the fifties. He was a hit with Kenton, and it is perhaps no coincidence that all of Kenton's recordings that feature Perkins are good ones and they remain as fresh today as when they were recorded. Similarly his work on some of Woody Herman's recordings from that time have achieved classic status, where his soloing is a showcase of delicacy and form.
Perkins recorded little under his own name, with notable exceptions as in “On StageThe Bill Perkins Octet” (Vogue) which has him leading Bud Shank, Jack Nimitz, Carl Fontana, Stu Williamson, Russ Freeman, Red Mitchell and Mel Lewis, and “Journey To The East,” recorded 28 years later in 1984 (Contemporary) where the Lester Young influence, which has always affected his playing so strongly, is diverted by a palpable injection of Sonny Rollins. His Perk Plays Prez, from '95, where he covers the music of Lester Young is a standout.He did release several discs recorded in a live setting.
He however recorded prolifically for other leaders, but was extremely modest about his success. Whilst with Kenton many beautiful settings were written for his tenor saxophone solos by Bill Holman and Bill Russo. Yesterdays probably became his best-known recording and was demanded at all Kenton's concerts. Kenton toured Britain for the first time in 1956, and Perkins remained particularly popular there for the rest of his career.
It was at this point that Perkins began making innumerable albums of West Coast jazz that became classics. Whilst with Kenton and Herman he also recorded regularly as a member of Shorty Rogers's Giants, with his solo making the trumpeter's Blues for Brando a substantial hit for both of them. Some of Perkins's finest playing of the period was on a 1956 quintet album with John Lewis, pianist in the Modern Jazz Quartet, entitled “Two Degrees East, Three Degrees West.”
He worked in the film studios as well, where his most notable experience was working under Duke Ellington for the soundtrack of “Assault on a Queen” (1966). In the middle Seventies he played baritone sax with the Toshiko Akiyoshi/Lew Tabackin Big Band and returned to Herman for occasional guest solo spots. During the middle Eighties he toured the world with a Shorty Rogers group and in 1986, on one of his visits to Britain, toured with a quintet he co-led with the British tenorist Tommy Whittle. In 1991 Perkins recorded under his own name with a big band designed to recall the spirit of, rather than to copy, the Woody Herman band.
By this time his health began to collapse, and he spent the rest of his life still playing, but battling four separate cancers. In 1992 he was operated on for lung cancer. One of his hips collapsed, but he was still regularly to be seen carrying his four or five instruments around in their cases. In 2002 Perkins led a recreation of the Shorty Rogers Giants at a Burbank festival and in 2003 appeared at a similar festival.
Bill Perkins passed on Aug. 9, 2003.
Source: James Nadal