Conventional music industry wisdom has long dictated that a jazz musician must take sides-either you play straight-ahead be-bop, or you go fully contemporary and cater to the smooth jazz audience. Like the legends he most admires-from Miles to Herbie and Ramsey - pianist and producer Billy Mitchell loves playing both, and his refusal to limit himself creatively has earned him respect from both sides of the proverbial fence.
His first solo efforts, Blue City Jam (PAUSA-1984) and Night Theme (PAUSA-1987) captured the funky, urban flavored vibe of the Quiet Storm format just before the advent of smooth jazz, and Faces (Vista/Optimism-1988) and the similarly styled In Focus (Vista/Optimism1991) rose high on Billboard's contemporary jazz charts and continue to receive international airplay. After a few colorful live excursions into swing and straight-ahead Live All Night Long (USA-1994), Cat's Pajamas (USA-1996), Passion (USA-1998) Mitchell returns to the smooth jazz fold with his release, Never Give Up On Love (PRC- 2001), a soulful and dynamic session which combines Mitchell's love for jammin' R&B funk with a keen sense of romance and grace. 2005 has produced a collaboration of international flavors Minority Report-Classified (Vista) and the 2006 release of The Traveler (Vista) featuring the influences of Afro-Centric music.
Born in Tarrytown and raised in Buffalo, New York, Billy Mitchell tinkered with the piano as a child but did not get serious about music until he entered Morehouse College. While pursuing a political science degree he joined the school jazz band and was soon playing gigs in and around Atlanta. In 1970 Mitchell moved to Los Angeles to pursue his career and was soon backing up such artists as Gloria Lynn, Ester Phillips, Randy Crawford and Linda Hopkins, to name a few.
The Billy Mitchell Group has appeared at many international festivals including the Monterey Jazz Festival, Playboy Jazz Festival, Heineken World Music Festival, International Jazz Festival, Pori Jazz Festival, Sedona Jazz on the Rocks, and countless club appearances. His solo career has included appearances in film, most notably Clint Eastwood's "Bird." In 1999 America West Airlines awarded Mitchell the Jazz For The Next Generation Award for his continued work with young musicians. His work as a clinician has centered on his book, "The Gigging Musician" (Backbeat Books) based on interviews and his articles as a writer for Gig Magazine.
In 2002 Billy founded The Scholarship Audition Performance Preparatory Academy (SAPPA). This program is designed to increase participation of inner-city students in music and arts scholarship competitions. SAPPA works to develop the students' artistic and creative aptitude, ability, desire and skills by providing music workshops to help students toward their ultimate goals. For additional info on the SAPPA program: www.sappa.net. This interview was recorded 02/16/2013.
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