Born: September 24, 1949 Primary Instrument: Guitar
Jazz guitarist Bill Connors is an accomplished performer whose finely developed musical sense and technical expertise have been honed over years of hard work and experience. Born in southern California in 1949, Connors began to play guitar at the age of fourteen. After three years of extensive self-study of the rock and blues influences that were his first inspiration, he began to play gigs around the Los Angeles area. He soon found his way to jazz, the music that would lead to a life-long commitment.
Connors moved to San Francisco in the early 1970's, where he met up with drummer and vibraphonist Glenn Cronkhite, who would introduce him to a new depth of jazz sounds and study. In those early years in the city by the bay, Connors played with numerous top-flight musicians, including Cronkhite, bassist Steve Swallow and pianists Art Lande and Mike Nock.
In 1973, after sitting in on a gig, Connors was signed on to Return to Forever, keyboardist and composer Chick Corea’s pioneering fusion group that featured bassist Stanley Clarke and drummer Lenny White. Connors moved to New York and established himself on the national and international music scenes with the group, touring in Japan and Europe, and recording the now legendary Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy. Connors' playing with the group and on Hymn... spearheaded an unprecedented direction for guitar in jazz. In 1974, he left RTF, and began to explore the New York jazz and session scene, performing with guitarist John Abercrombie and keyboardist Jan Hammer, and recording with bassist Stanley Clarke.
Connors recorded his first solo album in 1974, Theme to the Gaurdian (ECM), making the switch from electric to acoustic guitar. At the same time, he began the next phase of his self-driven studies, taking it on himself to delve into transcriptions and studies of the works of classical guitarists. Two more recordings on acoustic guitar followed, 1977's Of Mist and Melting (ECM), with Connors as leader and on guitar, saxophonist Jan Garbarek, bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette and then, in 1979, another solo effort by the guitarist, Swimming with a Hole in My Body (ECM).
During 1976 and 1977, Connors also recorded with Lee Konitz, Paul Bley and Jimmy Giuffre in New York. He toured Europe, performing with composers Luciano Berio and Cathy Berberian. Connors then returned to electric guitar, performing and recording with Jan Garbarek, Jack DeJohnette and John Taylor in 1977 (Places, ECM), with Garbarek, Taylor, Jon Christensen and Eberhard Weber in 1978 (Photo with Blue Sky, White Cloud, ECM), and with Tom Van Der Geld and Richard Jannotta in 1979 (Path, ECM).
In 1985, Connors recorded Step It (Pathfinder/Evidence), featuring Connors and Steve Kahn on guitars, Tom Kennedy on bass and Dave Weckl on drums. Music critic Gene Santoro said of Connors’ playing on the album: “the aching blues phrases sing with the expressiveness of early-to middle-period Clapton; the sudden note blizzards strike with the stark power of a John Coltrane sax solo ” (Guitar Player, May 1985). Connors’ next album, 1986's Double Up, again featuring bassist Kennedy but now with drummer Kim Plainfield, brought more accolades: “Connors is back, stronger than ever with one of the most dynamic, burning sounds in electric jazz” and “Connors soars, smolders, and screams; don’t miss it” (Jim Ferguson, Guitar Player, April 1987). The same trio (Connors, Kennedy, Plainfield) recorded Assembler in 1987, and again reviewers praised the sounds: “Connors’ flowing, passionate lines in the context of slippery, interactive funk grooves laid down by drummer Plainfield, a master of slick time displacement, and the accomplished 6-string electric bassist Tom Kennedy...the three reach a special accord... Bill Connors is in rare and ripping form” (reviewer Bill Milkowski).
For the past ten years, Connors has been giving private lessons while continuing his stylistic and technical studies of the works of jazz greats. He’s now playing plectrum style on a classical jazz guitar, an archtop electric, and he returns to record as a mature professional with a highly polished level of musicianship, a sure sense of direction, and the same overriding love for the music that has always been his touchstone.