I was born in Sacramento, CA (William Allen Mays) Feb. 5, 1944. There was always music in our home. My dad, Bill Sr., was a minister, and played the piano, organ, trombone, guitar and harmonica, so gospel music was the first music I heard. My mom, Martha, a homemaker, had a beautiful, very natural, voice and I have vivid memories of him playing the accordion while she sang. Dad's trombone was an old, silver valved one. I loved that sound—it’s probably the reason I took up the baritone horn and trumpet in junior high school. We had a spinet piano, a Baldwin Acrosonic, and I was at it from a very early age.
I had some great teachers down through the years but the one who really set the stage, at around age eight, was Ethel Bush. She was a loving, supportive person who really ignited my passion for the instrument, including a love of practice, an awareness of tone production and the sheer joy of just being at the piano. That was a great gift. My first exposure to jazz came at age 16, when a friend took me to a jazz brunch at which the legendary Earl ‘Fatha’ Hines was playing solo piano. It was so new to my ears, and it was burning! His rhythmic drive, unusual melodic twists, two-handed independence and use of the whole keyboard thrilled and inspired me. Shortly thereafter I heard Miles Davis’ band at San Francisco’s Black Hawk, and that was further inspiration. Later I discovered Tommy Flanagan, Hank Jones, Wynton Kelly, Jimmy Rowles, Horace Silver and Art Tatum—I was hooked!