Bill Perkins Biography

William Reese Perkins, 22 July 1924, San Francisco, California, USA, d. 9 August 2003, Sherman Oaks, California, USA. Having started out on a career as an electrical engineer, tenor saxophonist Perkins was in his mid-twenties before he made an appearance in Jerry Wald’s band in 1950. The following year he was with Woody Herman’s Third Herd and by 1953 was in Stan Kenton’s band. The rest of the 50s were spent alternating between Herman and Kenton during which time his reputation as a subtly inventive soloist grew steadily. His playing at this time was derived from Lester Young by way of Stan Getz, although he was also influenced by Richie Kamuca, who was with him in both the Herman and Kenton bands. His light, relaxed style made him a natural for the currently active west coast school of music. In 1956 he recorded with John Lewis, Richie Kamuca, Art Pepper and others and in 1959 was on Pepper’s highly successful Plus Eleven.

In the 60s Perkins chose to turn his back on life on the road, taking a job with Pacific Jazz Records as a recording engineer, but was active in the studios and playing occasional jazz gigs, a pattern that continued into the 70s. In 1969, he joined Doc Severinsen’s Tonight Showband, where he remained for almost 25 years. During this period he worked with Toshiko Akiyoshi and Lew Tabackin’s Big Band, Bill Holman, and was reunited with Herman in the occasional project. By the 80s Perkins was touring widely, and appeared in the UK where he showed that he had lost none of his earlier inventiveness. At the start of the following decade he contracted cancer, a disease which he fought for the rest of his life and which necessitated nine operations on his throat. A relaxed style and an elegant, dry-toned sound characterized Perkins’ playing.


Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.


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