Bill Harris began his musical training on the clarinet at the age of nine in the small Boston suburb of Topsfield, Massachusetts. He began to get serious about music around the age of 17, at which point he also began playing the saxophone and flute. Sure that this was the career he wanted to pursue, he enrolled at Ithaca College in Ithaca, New York, to receive a Bachelor of Music degree as a clarinet major. During his freshman year of college Bill heard the Woody Herman Band with its unusual saxophone section of three tenors and one baritone, and knew at that moment that sax was to be his instrument.
After a year off from school to concentrate on playing the sax, he completed his college studies and moved to New York City where he studied privately with Bob Mintzer of the Yellowjackets. Although playing mostly sax at this time, Bill soon found that there was a demand on the Off-Broadway scene for an R&B sax player who could also play classical clarinet and flute. He made his living in this field for many years performing on such shows as A My Name is Alice and Personals (two shows written by the creators of HBO's Dream On and the hit TV series Friends), Three Guys Naked from the Waist Down (starring Scott Bakula) and Angry Housewives. At this time Bill was also active in the studios doing jingle work for such products as Dawn Dishwashing Detergent, Pampers, Ivory Shampoo, Stroh's Beer and Orangina.