Monday, March 1, 2010

Bill Pearce 1926-2010

Saturday night, while I was attending a church related social event, a friend asked me to comment on the passing of a "great trombone player." He thought I would know who he was talking about, but I was clueless, and he couldn't recall the name. Later, I learned that it was Bill Pearce. He died on February 22, after a long illness.

Bill Pearce was a huge inspiration to me when I was a teenager. You see, he was exactly what I wanted to be -- a jazz-style, lyrical trombone player with a sound like Tommy Dorsey and the technical fluidity of Bill Watrous, as well as a professional singer, and a well known radio announcer with his own nationally syndicated radio show. And he did all of this in the context of Christian ministry. He had his hands in and was at the top of his game in all of the arenas I aspired to be successful in as a teen.

I had learned about him first through his radio program -- "Nightsounds." I used to fall asleep listening to the radio as a teenager, and when I was in 8th grade and as a freshman or sophomore in high school, I was fascinated both the late night programming on WLNR radio from Lansing, Illinois. It was quite a variety -- the play by play of the Chicago Cougars, the new hockey team in the fledgling World Hockey Association, or Chuck Shaden's "Those were the days," rebroadcasts of old time radio programs. But after all that ended, around 11:30 or midnight, Bill Pearce's program came on. It was a time when I was really struggling with my spiritual identity, and the Nightsounds program really ministered to me with its biblical quotes and beautiful music.

It was much later that I learned of Mr. Pearce's singing and trombone prowess. I still have several of his recordings. It was my goal to become a professional trombonist and singer, and use my talents to glorify God. Later, in college, when I got the "radio bug," I also thought that being a radio professional would also be in my future. I wanted to do exactly what Bill Pearce was doing.

I got to meet Bill Pearce once. He was a featured clinician at a convention for Trombonists I attended with my Trombone professor, Dr. Tom Streeter, and our studio at Illinois Wesleyan, while I was in college. Probably 1978 or 1979. It was just Bill, presenting a workshop, playing his horn and singing to backup trax. It was an inspiring performance. He was genuinely warm and humble. I really didn't get much of a chance to talk to him -- it was more like "can I have your autograph." But he didn't brush any of us off.

Below is a great article, an interview he gave late in his career. There are a few links to audio files. Its a shame he wasn't more well known. Though I don't think fame meant a whole lot to Bill. He was just happy to play, sing, and minister on the radio.

Bill's theme song was his own arrangement of the artsong "Beau Soir" by Debussey. It was the opening theme for his radio show. I had the lead sheet for it. I could never play it as well as him. His haunting, lyrical interpretation defined how he played. And I can't hear that song, or even that style of music without thinking of Bill, and what he represented, and what he meant to me as a musician and in my walk with God. He was a shining example of a truly humble musician who used his gifts to further God's kingdom, without putting his own ego first.

I hope you enjoy the link to the interview. It really paints a great picture of Bill's life and contribution to our lives.

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