The spirits of jazz greats Coltrane, Ellington, Gardner and Quincey Jones were in the Castlemont Auditorium Tuesday night, where 400 attended the 80th Birthday Musical Legacy Tribute to Professor Bill Bell.
A living legend, Bell has touched the lives of practically every Bay Area Jazz star, from Rodney Frankin to Pete Escovedo.
Emcee Clifford Brown said that Bell had also touched his life. “Mr. Bell taught me integrity in the music industry. He told me that when your family cries out to you or your community cries out, you always say ‘Yes.’”
Originally from East Moline, Illinois, Bell exhibited his skill on the piano without instruction at age 4. By age 15, he had performed with several bands and was a member of the musicians’ union.
He continued to study music in college and graduated from Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois with a BA in music. He holds a masters’ degree in music from the University of Iowa and a postgraduate certificate in secondary Supervision from UC Berkeley.
He retired as chairman of the music department at College of Alameda and served as jazz band director at Stanford University. He started as a substitute teacher with Oakland Public School, evolving into an adjunct professor at UC Berkeley, where he taught jazz improvisation.
Highly versatile, he is known for work composition, arranging and conducting as well as music education.
The who’s who of Bay Area Music was on stage Tuesday to pay tribute, including: Rodney Franklin, Pete and Juan Escovedo, Glen Pearson, Janice Maxie-Reid, Geechie Taylor, Angela Wellman, Marlon Green, Deszon Claiborne, Tony Saunders, Marvin Holmes, Lloyd Gregory, Wayne Wallace, Dave Ellis and Jeff Chambers.
Others who attended: Jimmie McKinney, Vincent Lars, Michael Cheadle, Claytoven Richardson, Will Kennedy, Duane Worm, Danny Armstrong, Kenny Washington, Bryan Dyer, Nikita Germaine, Larry Batiste, Terrance Kelly, Stabe Wilson, Rob Rhodes, Tony Saunders, the Oakland Bay Area Community Chorus, and the Alameda College Alumni Big Band.
Speakers paying tribute were Daisy Newman from the Young Musicians Program at UC Berkeley; Dr. Olly Wilson, Professor, Composer, UC Berkeley and Glen Pearson who said, expressing his gratitude, “Thank you for making us better musicians but more importantly, thank you for making us better human beings.”
A proclamation was read from Mayor Schaaf who declared July 12 as “Bill Bell Day.” Other proclamations were read from Gov. Jerry Brown, Rep. Barbara Lee and President Barack Obama.